Return to Transcripts main page


Sources: Jared Kushner Loses Top-Secret Security Clearance; NSA Director: Trump Has Not Directed to Disrupt Russian Threats; White House Communications Director Refuses to Answer Questions from Congress. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer. He's in THE SITUATION ROOM next door. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:08] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Reduced clearance. President Trump's senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner loses his top-secret security clearance. How can he keep working on sensitive issues like the Middle East and China?

No authority. America's cyber-security chief says President Trump has not given them the authority to go after Russia's election hackers at the source. And warns the Russians have not paid enough of a price to change their behavior.

Refusing to answer. Another top Trump aide stonewalls a congressional Russia probe as communications director Hope Hicks refuses to answer questions about her time at the White House.

And sniper's nest? A law enforcement source says the Florida high school gunman left behind 180 rounds when he fled and may have tried to set up a sniper's nest in a school window, perhaps to shoot at people outside.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, presidential son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner is among the White House aides whose interim security clearances have been downgraded, according to sources who say the move will keep Kushner from seeing top-secret material.

Plus, the Russia investigations are in full swing up on Capitol Hill. In stunning Senate testimony, the National Security Agency chief says President Trump has not given him the authority to go after Russian cyber-attackers. And House members question one of the president's closest aides, communications director Hope Hicks, without getting many answers.

I'll speak with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they are all standing by with full coverage.

But let's begin with the breaking news. As presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner gets a downgrade from his top-secret security clearance.

Let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, what are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president ignored questions about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, losing his top- secret security clearance here at the White House. The questions are coming in response to a change made here by the chief of staff, John Kelly. That will affect White House staffers who are operating on interim top-secret clearances. As a result, those employees, including Kushner, will have their access to sensitive materials limited over here.

The White House is attempting to clear up its security clearance process, just as it's also doing damage control on two big issues: Russia and gun control.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It was a stunning admission from the director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, revealing that the president has not issued a directive to put a stop to Russian cyber operations designed to disrupt U.S. elections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you been directed to do so?

ADMIRAL MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: No, I have not, but if I could flesh this out...

ACOSTA: That admission left lawmakers exasperated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not taken on the Russians yet. We're watching them intrude in our elections, spread misinformation, and we're just essentially sitting back and waiting.

ROGERS: It's probably fair to say that we have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors that we are seeing.

ACOSTA: Rogers went on to say Russia has yet to really for what they did in 2016.

ROGERS: I believe that President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion, there's little price to pay here.

SEN. CLAIR MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: The notion that you have not been given this mission to stop this from happening this year is outrageous.

ROGERS: Thrown once again into Russia damage control mode, the White House tried to push back on the notion that the president even needs to direct NSA to take action.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody is denying him the authority. We're looking at a number of different ways that we can put pressure. Look, this president, as I told you last week, has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessor. ACOSTA: Russia was on the president's mind in the morning as he

tweeted that he's the victim of a witch hunt. A new CNN poll shows a majority of Americans don't approve of the president's handling of the Russia probe.

SANDERS: Let's not forget that this happened under Obama. It didn't happen under President Trump. If you want to blame somebody on past problems, then you need to look at the Obama administration. The president is looking at all of the different causes and all of the different ways that we can prevent it.

ACOSTA: The White House is also on its heels on the issue of gun control...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough is enough!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough is enough!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enough is enough!

... insisting the president does support the idea of raising the age limit to 21 for buying some weapons.

SANDERS: The president still supports raising the age limit to 21 for the purchase of certain firearms.

ACOSTA: That clarification came after sources told CNN the president was backing away from the proposal. Mr. Trump didn't even mention the idea when he met with the nation's governors.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're really going to, I think, have the support of the NRA having to do with background checks. Very strong background checks and a very heavy section on mental health.

ACOSTA: That was just before press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters the president liked the idea of raising the age limit but as a concept.

SANDERS: In terms of the concept, there's still support for that, but how it would be implemented and what that might look like is still part -- very much part of the discussion.

[17:05:09] ACOSTA: But a key GOP congressional source tells CNN there does not appear to be a path forward for the age limit proposal, which is fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Association.

House Speaker Paul Ryan sounded more supportive of strengthening the nation's background check information.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We shouldn't be banning guns for law-abiding citizens. We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don't get those guns.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA: Now as for security clearances for Jared Kushner and others here at the White House and those clearances being reduced, sources close to the White House are bluntly telling CNN that Kelly's move -- that is chief of staff John Kelly's move -- directly undercuts the president's son-in-law -- that's Jared Kushner -- in his role as an envoy to the Middle East.

As you know, Wolf, the president on down, they've been saying that they had confidence in Jared Kushner to be able to broker some kind of Middle East peace deal. This one source I talked to close to the White House earlier today, who said this move from General Kelly really undercuts Jared Kushner's ability to be involved in those kinds of negotiations.

Another source told us that this will keep Jared Kushner out of a lot of important meetings here at the White House. And Wolf, as you know, at the White House, access equals influence. So it's difficult on see how Jared Kushner can go on in his current role as a very important senior, close adviser to the president while having his security clearance limited.

Wolf, we were reporting just a couple of weeks ago that Kushner, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter, that they were a member of some 100 staffers over here at the White House who were working off of interim security clearances. Now we understand our sources are telling us that the FBI, as well as the White House, they're trying to work through all those security clearances and get these issues resolved. But it seems in the meantime, Jared Kushner's going to have his role greatly reduced over here as a result of this change implemented by General Kelly, the chief of staff.

BLITZER: Yes. There's a significant, very significant huge difference between top-secret, SCI, what they call sensitive compartmentalized information, as opposed to secret information. It's going to be really difficult for him to continue in those roles without that top-secret security clearance. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

Another top Trump aide, meanwhile, is stonewalling the House Intelligence Committee. The White House communications director, Hope Hicks, is refusing to answer questions about her time in the White House over these past 13 months.

Let's to go our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, is she still in that room behind you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. For more than seven hours, Wolf, she has been behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee.

For most of the day, she was not answering questions about the transition period and for about her time during the White House, only saying that the White House has authorized her to speak about the campaign period but not any talk about any topics after the campaign. Very much in line with what Steve Bannon did when he came before the committee on two separate occasions and would not answer questions about his time after the campaign.

Well, there's been a bit of a shift in the last several moments here, Wolf. One Republican member of the committee, Tom Rooney, just emerged and said that Hope is starting to answer questions about the transition period, in large part because she had answered questions about the transition when she met previously before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and House Intelligence Committee was saying that they should also be afforded the same right to get those -- their questions answered about the transition.

Still, she is not answering questions about her time at the White House, and Democrats are not happy. They're saying that she should be subpoenaed to answer some of these questions. That's a concern that was raised earlier today by Congressman Mike Quigley.


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I have less hope we'll get to all the answers.

RAJU: Has there been a subpoena issued for her?


RAJU: Should there be?


RAJU: Why is that?

QUIGLEY: With anyone who doesn't answer questions, they ought to be subpoenaed.


RAJU: But so far we're not seeing as much concern from Republicans about her refusal to answer some key questions as they had with Steve Bannon, of course, threatening on hold him in contempt of Congress for not answering questions about the transition and during the White House.

And you'll recall that there was -- those threats about contempt for Bannon. But we're told today by several of the members, Republican members of that committee that they have not made a decision yet about whether or not to move forward with a contempt citation for Steve Bannon and certainly not clear that they would go anywhere near there with Hope Hicks, because she appears to be leaving some Republican concerns even of Democrats are not happy. We'll see what they have to say when she -- they emerge in probably a matter of moments. This hearing going on all day.

Democrats want a lot more answers about what she knew during the White House, the firing of Jim Comey, that infamous statement that was drafted about that Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., and the Russians and other topics. She's shed any light on that. She hadn't earlier in the day, Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. Seven hours and counting. We'll see when she finally

emerges. Manu, we'll get back to you. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

[17:10:09] Let's bring in our reporters and analysts. We're standing by to speak with Congressman Eric Swalwell, Gloria. He's a member of the committee. As soon as he walks out from the Intelligence Committee hearing -- this is all happening behind closed doors -- we'll talk to him, as well.

But let's get back to the breaking news: Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, senior adviser, no longer has top-secret security clearances. He's not secret security clearance. There's a big different, and questions now remain. Will he be able to continue his work in the Middle East, continue his work on China, continue his work on Mexico? You really need top-secret SCI clearances for all of that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I don't see how, really, he can continue to do his job at the level that -- that he was doing it. You need that kind of clearance. I know what General Kelly has said. I know what his attorney has said.

But the truth of the matter is that his clearance will be very limited right now. And when you're dealing with, let's say, a place like the Middle East, and you want to -- you want to deal with intelligence that comes from the Middle East, it's useful to know sources and methods, for example. It's useful to see some sensitive intercepts. But you might see, and you wouldn't see that under -- under the clearance that he now has.

And, you know, our reporting from the last week has shown that, so long as the Mueller investigation is going on, that Jared is very unlikely to get that clearance upgrade that he really needs. And so I would think that's a real problem for him in doing his work.

BLITZER: Yes. They've been checking his security clearances, Sabrina, for 13 months now. Maybe even earlier during the transition. I assume they started, and he still hasn't qualified. That's a major setback.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Absolutely. And this, in some ways, has been a long time coming. I think it's been notable that members of both parties on Capitol Hill have raised red flags about the status of Jared Kushner's security clearance. We know that he had omitted dozens of financial transactions on his security clearance forms, as well as contacts that he had with foreign officials and foreign leaders. That included, of course, a meeting during the transition with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. at the time, as well as the head of a bank, a Russian state bank that was sanctioned by the U.S.

So these are some of the concerns, I think, that have been brimming to the surface. And really, the dam was broken during the Rob Porter scandal, which highlighted the security clearance process within the White House. BLITZER: Only the other day, Sara, the president said he was going to leave it up to his White House chief of staff, General Kelly, to make this decision. He was going to step back. Well, General Kelly has now made his decision.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, General Kelly has made his decision. And look, for I guess, those people who are watching the White House and had concerns about nepotism, maybe this makes them feel better that the president didn't directly intervene.

And I think Sabrina makes a good point that, you know, Jared Kushner's security clearance was going to be complicated for a lot of reasons. It was going to be complicated because he filed his forms incorrectly the first time. It was going to be complicated even if he filed his forms correctly because he has done so much business and has had so many different foreign contacts, and he was coming from a nonpolitical world. So this is a more complicated background than you would normally see for someone coming into the White House like this.

And now you have the Mueller investigation still ongoing. And we know that there are questions being asked about, you know, some of the meetings Jared Kushner took and some of the financing for his business. Obviously, that adds another layer of complication and, as Gloria said, makes it more likely that he would get any kind of top- secret clearance while this investigation is still ongoing.

You know, if you're John Kelly, you're really between a rock and a hard place. Do you do, you know, what you think is going to please the president and give this person top-secret security clearance, even though that's not necessarily what is warranted, or do you go with what the protocol calls for? And I think that's what we've seen him do.

BLITZER: The president did say that he expected John Kelly to make the right decision. He was fully confident he would make the right decision. What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, just to go back to what Gloria said, if you ask the CIA, if you ask the NSA. Like, why do we have the CIA? Why do we have the NSA? The reason is to give policy makers the information that they need to make decisions.

He's allegedly in charge of Middle East negotiations. There is no more important or high-profile NSA/CIA information. How can he do his job? What is his job now if he doesn't have access to this material?

And all of it goes back to the problem of nepotism. If he were treated like everyone else, he'd be gone.

BORGER: He wouldn't be there. He wouldn't be there in the first place.

TOOBIN: He wouldn't be there -- you're right. He wouldn't be there in the first place, but he'd certainly be gone by this point. But because he's the president's son-in-law, they have to sort of jerry rig the system where he's sort of there and he can sort of do his job, but that's not what the American people asked for, and it's not what they deserve.

BLITZER: Because is he really qualified...


BLITZER: ... to be Middle East negotiator, a special envoy dealing with some of the most sensitive, some of the most complex negotiations in the world of diplomacy.

BORGER: Is that a rhetorical question? I think not.

[17:15:07] Look, Jared, as the president has pointed out many times, has a great deal of knowledge about the Middle East, I'm sure. A great deal of interest in the Middle East. But is he the person that a president -- you would think a president would pick to be the chief negotiator for the United States for peace in the Middle East? You know, I think not.

I mean, this was something that the president felt, Jared could do, because he's a great negotiator or deal maker. I'm not quite sure why. Or married to his daughter? I don't know. But, you know, obviously not.

I think that he's also involved in Mexico, a U.S./Mexico relationship.

TOOBIN: China.

BORGER: China. And there are all kinds of issues there with Jared and his business -- and his business dealings. So I think that -- that this security clearance denial is one way of saying, "You know, you're not going to be able to do that job."

BLITZER: The president presumably could overrule his White House chief of staff and say, "You know what? I'm the president. I'm giving him the security clearances he needs."

SIDDIQUI: And this is a president who changes his mind on any given day. Now when he spoke to reporters on Friday, as we just noted, he said he was leaving the decision up to his chief of staff, John Kelly, but we know also that there are competing factions within this White Houses, and John Kelly, in particular, has often been at odds with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

You know, the extent to which this further exacerbates some of those internal fissures and where that leads the White House in the coming weeks and days and whether or not the president is going to, again, show this complexity with his personal relationships and these very influential positions, that remains to be seen.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. We're getting more information now just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about Jared Kushner. We'll take a quick break. We'll update you right after this.


[17:21:34] BLITZER: We're back with our reporters and our analysts. And Sara, we're just getting this in from "The Washington Post," a very -- from Jared Kushner in the White House perspective, very disturbing new information about Jared Kushner. Let me read a couple lines from the story.

"Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and senior advisor, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter. Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico, the current and former officials said."

That would help explain why, over these past 13 months, the FBI and the intelligence community, determined they can't give him full security clearances.

MURRAY: That's right. And it goes on -- the story goes on to say that they discovered that Jared Kushner was having contacts with foreign officials that he did not, you know, coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report in the channels that you would expect.

And look, I think this goes back to the initial concerns that everyone had about Jared Kushner's business dealings when he came into the White House. And the unique thing about when you have real estate holdings is you don't suddenly forget that you own this building, 666, that is part of your family's real-estate holdings, that has had a huge problem getting financing. That's not a piece of information that you delete from your brain just because you may divest from that and you may move over to the White House.

And clearly, that was on the mind of foreign officials, too, is they were having contacts amongst themselves or with Jared Kushner. The notion that they could somehow use this or some of his other financial dealings against them.

BORGER: And we reported last week, Wolf, that the special counsel team is asking questions in their interviews of people about Jared Kushner's -- Jared Kushner's conversations with, for example, the Chinese and whether he was mixing his business with his new professional life during the transition and trying to get funding, say, for some of his, like, 666 Fifth Avenue, which was in some difficulty.

And, you know, the question here, I think, that they're trying to to get to the bottom of was, was he doing something inappropriate? Was he naive in establishing these back channels, as he told us he was going to -- he was trying to do when he was filling out his clearance form improperly?

And so there are all of these kinds of questions swirling about what Jared did and who he was talking to and why he said what he said. It's a question of, was there anything nefarious or was he naive?

TOOBIN: This is the definition of a security risk. Because if you are a business person, who is in desperate need of funds, as Jared Kushner is, and you are negotiating with China or the UAE, governments that control enormous amounts of investment capital, and you need investment capital, are you negotiating with them on behalf of the United States or are you negotiating with them on behalf of your personal need, business needs? There's no way to sort that out, really, except denying someone a security clearance so you don't have that kind of risk in the first place.

MURRAY: And I think that's, like, the important 10,000-foot view here. Is that we are talking about one of the president's closest advisers, a person who is a member of his family, who is married to his daughter, that foreign countries, that foreign officials believe could be compromised or that they could put in a compromising position to serve their interests, rather than the interests of the United States.

[17:25:05] BLITZER: Sabrina, we did get a statement from someone representing Abbe Lowell, Jared Kushner's personal attorney. Quote, "We will not respond substantively to unnamed sources peddling second- hand hearsay with rank speculation who continue to leak inaccurate information."

Let me read another line from this "Washington Post" report: "The president's national security advisor, General H.R. McMaster, learned that Kushner had contacts with foreign officials, that he did not coordinate through the National Security Council or officially report," "The Washington Post" says. "The issue of foreign officials talking about their meetings with Kushner and their perception of his vulnerabilities was a subject raised in McMaster's daily intelligence briefings, according to current and former officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters."

The fear is, if the U.S. was picking up information from these other countries in whatever way the U.S. can do it, and they were talking about using Kushner to their advantage, that's a huge problem.

SIDDIQUI: It's absolutely a huge problem. And this goes back to the point that Sara made. We have one issue here where he has not been using the appropriate channels. And you now have his security clearance downgraded, and it's hard to foresee how he can continue in his role where he has a vast foreign policy portfolio and he would need access to a lot of that sensitive and classified information.

And now you have this other reporting suggesting the vulnerability and the way he's been preyed upon by other countries. That was almost expected, I think, in some ways, when you had a president who put family members in these very influential senior roles within the White House who, as Sarah noted earlier, do not have the traditional policy experience or political experience, frankly, to be serving in the highest office of the land.

TOOBIN: And just to underline how crazy this situation is, these are obviously based on intercepts. There is nothing more highly classified in the government than National Security Agency intercepts. The only way now Jared Kushner can read these intercepts is in "The Washington Post." Because he doesn't have the security clearance to read the intercepts about him, except when they get reported in the news media.

BORGER: And we know the special counsel has probably seen these, because he's asking these kinds of questions of people who come in to see him about Jared Kushner.

TOOBIN: And they have security clearances, the people who work for Mueller.

BORGER: They do have security clearances. So you know, again, you have to ask the question. Here's Jared trying to establish so-called back channel with the Russians, and who else, meeting with Russian bankers during the transition at Trump Tower, et cetera, et cetera, and then dealing with Chinese officials.

And, you know, the question you have to ask is, why? Why was he the point man, as he said? And what did he do as the point man? Did he know that he could not talk, either in those conversations or in follow-up conversations, about his private business affairs with people he was dealing with as a representative, even during the transition, of the United States government?

BLITZER: Yes. A line here that he was also talking, apparently, with senior officials from Qatar...


BLITZER: ... about possibly investing in some of his real-estate projects. That's another serious issue.

Let me, Sara, read another couple lines from this "Washington Post" report. "Officials in the White House were concerned that Kushner was, quote, "naive and being tricked" into conversations with foreign officials, some of whom said they wanted to deal only with Kushner directly and not more experienced personnel, said one former White House official." Quote -- this is still from the "Washington Post" -- "Kushner has an unusually complex set of business arrangements and foreign entanglements for a senior White House aide, experts have said. But his behavior while in office has only drawn more scrutiny and raised concerns that he would be unable to obtain a final security clearance, which he needs to perform the many jobs Trump has entrusted to him for negotiating foreign trade deals to overseeing a Middle East peace process."

BORGER: I mean, that was our story last week.

MURRAY: Right, right. And we've reported, you know, parts of this. And I think it is worrisome when you are, you know, another official in the White House, if you're H.R. McMaster, if you are someone else who have been on the NSC, who has worked with these countries for a long time, to see Jared Kushner making these kinds of contacts directly, doing it outside of the scope that you normally would, not having the kind of staff that you normally would by your side to make these phone calls.

Because these are people who have worked these countries for a long time. These are people who know how they operate. These are people who can raise the red flags when you say, "I know we had this conversation to talk about something in the administration, about foreign policy. But they're going to try to bring up 666. They're going to try to bring up your business, and here's how we navigate away from that."

And it seems like, based on this report, that Kushner did not want to use those avenues. He did not want to use those protections. He did not want those NSC officials participating in these phone calls. And I think that's part of the reason other countries were able to walk away with the impression that maybe he was naive in his behavior.

BORGER: Early on in the -- in this whole Russia story, we reported about conversations between Russians bragging about Flynn and how they had great -- they had great in with Flynn and perhaps Flynn could be useful to them, et cetera, et cetera.

And you know, you always have to be careful about these -- these intercepts. Because people tend to brag with each other. "You know, I have a lot of influence and a lot of sway with this character and that character." So, you know, we don't know what's in them. We don't know what they were saying.

But the fact that they were saying it raises a lot of questions about what they believe their relationship was and what they believed they could give him in exchange for something else. And that's -- you know, that's the question that goes back to the security clearance issue, which is, as Jeffrey says, you can't do it while this investigation is ongoing.

BLITZER: The suggestion is maybe he was just naive or being tricked. He didn't come in, as you correctly point out, Jeffrey, with a lot of diplomatic experience, a lot of experience in the intelligence community, in national security affairs. He was a real-estate guy in New York.

TOOBIN: You know, we don't -- we have an intern program at the White House for people who are not -- inexperienced, and they can, like, you know, get up to speed on things. Monica Lewinsky was in the program. But Jared Kushner was not in the intern program. He was in a very high-level post...

BORGER: Fast track.

TOOBIN: ... in which he remains. So I don't really think it's very -- it's a very sympathetic argument that, "Well, you know, he was new to the job. He didn't really know anything. So we should sort of cut him a break." You know, that's for the internship program, and we don't put the interns in charge of, say, negotiating Middle East peace, which is apparently still, to this day, Jared Kushner's job.

BORGER: Or reading the presidential -- or having access, I should say, to the presidential daily brief. BLITZER: It will be interesting to see what the president has to say

about all this, if he tweets anything about it, if he reacts at all. But stand by, guys. With us right now is one of the authors of "The Washington Post" story. Shane Harris is joining us.

Shane, thanks so much for joining us. Let's talk a little bit about this article you guys have just posted in "The Washington Post." These vulnerabilities came to light in the U.S. intelligence community, Intelligence Committee -- community reports.

What exactly are the risks here that -- that experts see? And how is Jared Kushner being viewed by these other countries?

SHANE HARRIS, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, ordinarily, when someone is applying for a security clearance, the natural questions that come up are do they have foreign entanglements, business dealings? Do they have debts? Are there things that they're not disclosing?

In this case with Jared Kushner, foreign officials saw the company debt that he had, his extensive business dealings, as places where they believed they could execute leverage over him. So it kind of answers the question, I think of what exactly was it that, as his clearance background check was going through, the potential sort of hot spots or vulnerabilities that were being found.

And, of course, we're finding, too, that his contacts that he had with foreign officials that he was not reporting were also creating problems for him. So these are kind of traditional pitfalls, if you will, that anybody going through the background process of investigation, these would create red flags for such a person.

BLITZER: Because Michael Flynn, who served for about a month as the president's national security advisor, there was concern that he potentially could be blackmailed. Is that a concern as far as Kushner is concerned right now?

HARRIS: Well, traditionally blackmail is a concern. We don't know precisely if that was the case here with Jared Kushner, and we don't have any evidence in our reporting right now that there was any kind of quid pro quo.

But I think that the concern among the officials and people that we talked to was that would foreign governments try to appeal to our access to information that says it is a quid pro quo.

But I think that the concern among the officials and people we talked to was that would foreign governments try to appeal to his business interests or, in some way, perhaps, appeal to his -- to his debt that he had, or that his company, I should say, had on a building in Manhattan and look for that as point of influence or a point of leverage.

When you're going through these background investigations, investigators look for, you know, the scenarios that could be exploited. It doesn't mean they found evidence that they were. But you look for those places where somebody might try to blackmail or curry favor or engage in some kind of a quid pro quo.

BLITZER: Because it seems like one of the issues that you report on, we've reported on, was the enormous debt, maybe as much as $1 billion on that one building in Manhattan, 666 Fifth Avenue. Talk about that and how that fits into this downgrading of his security clearances.

HARRIS: Well, of course, the Kushner Company has this large debt from this office building, 666 Fifth Avenue, which when it was acquired, was the most money ever paid for an office tower.

Kushner has divested out of his company, coming back into the government, but still, we know that the company has been looking for foreign investors and other kinds of investors to help alleviate that debt.

And specifically, this was coming up, we're told, when foreign officials were told talking about Kushner. That he did have these financial issues and this debt and could that create a point of influence or vulnerability for him.

And again, these are the kinds of things that any normal person going through a security clearance, a debt, any kind of ordinary consumer debt, credit-card debt, owing money to your mortgage company, can be something that's a red flag. In this case, it was Kushner being connected to a rather large real estate transaction. We don't know precisely whether that was a flag raised in his clearance, but we do know that foreign officials were talking about this. And that these foreign contacts that he had while he was in the White House, you know, were in this zone of concern for people when it came to his security clearance.

BLITZER: Shane Harris of "The Washington Post," thanks so much for joining us.

HARRIS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a key member of the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, I know you've been tied up in this behind-closed-doors Q&A all day that's been going -- that's been going on with Hope Hicks, the communications director, over at the White House.

But let me get your reaction to this "Washing Post" story, "Washington Post" story that "Jared Kushner's Overseas Contacts Raise Concerns As Foreign Officials Seek Leverage." That's the headline and, as you know, his security clearance has been downgraded from top-secret to secret.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yes, Wolf, the concern there is one that we have with multiple members of the Trump family and in the organization, which is that their financial disposition would be a point of leverage, particularly with a country that has a longstanding relationship with them. The Russians, of course, have long invested in Trump companies. And Trump has sought and received trademarks over in Russia and has done business there, so I think it should be reduced to zero, not secret, until the Russia investigation is complete.

BLITZER: Do you believe he should stay on the job, even without top- secret security clearances? Only secret security clearance, which he continues to have on an interim basis?

SWALWELL: I think he should be completely sidelined from any classified information. Particularly for a family who ran an entire campaign accusing Secretary Clinton for mishandling classified information. It's appalling that they would even allow these questions to linger until the investigation is resolved.

BLITZER: So you want him gone?

SWALWELL: Well, I think he could stay at the White House. It's the president's prerogative to have his people working there. But I don't think he should handle classified information, and I don't think any Republican would allow a Democrat, or would, you know, stand quiet if a Democrat was in his position. Nor should they.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what's been going on, what, for more than seven hours today, before your committee, behind closed doors. Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, has been answering your questions on certain issues.

But is there any good reason to believe that she is refusing to answer questions about her time serving at the White House?

SWALWELL: Wolf, that interview is ongoing. I'm going to return there as soon as we finish our vote series here.

I can just tell you what Democrats are asking for is consistency, that if we are going to subpoena Steve Bannon when he refuses to answer questions, that we do that with not just with Miss Hicks but every witness who's come before us.

So we're going to have a read-out of what has occurred and what we've asked for. I hope my Republican colleagues understand, the only way we get information is if we show a willingness, a doggedness to do it, just as Special Counsel Mueller has and just as our adversaries, the Russians, have in their efforts to influence our elections.

BLITZER: Because one of your Republican colleagues on the committee has said, emerged from the hearing, said, she's answering questions about what happened during the campaign. She's answering questions about what happened during the transition, but she's refusing to answer questions about what has happened over these past 13 months during the administration. Is that accurate?

SWALWELL: Wolf, that is -- that is accurate. But I still have hope that my Republican colleagues will put a subpoena in her hands, just as they did when Steve Bannon tried to do the same thing. So you know, hopefully, consistency prevails here.

And I'm going on step back to the floor to vote, Wolf. But I look forward to updating you.

BLITZER: You've got to run or can I ask you one more question?

SWALWELL: Sure. Go ahead.

BLITZER: To get your reaction to today's testimony from the National Security Agency chief, Admiral Mike Rogers, who says President Trump has not ordered him to confront Russian election meddling at the source. What did you make of those stunning remarks?

SWALWELL: Leadership starts at the top, Wolf, but we're not completely helpless. If the president isn't up for doing it, Congress must show that we are up for doing it in a unified way and do all we can to protect the ballot box, because we know the Russians haven't left, and our democracy is what's at stake.

BLITZER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, I know you've got to vote. Thanks so much for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

BLITZER: All right. We've got a lot of breaking news we're following. We'll resume our special coverage right after this.


[17:44:13] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We have breaking news, very disturbing information coming in from a U.S. military base right outside of Washington, D.C. Three people being treated right now after falling ill after a suspicious letter came to Joint Base Meyer Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia. That's right outside of Washington.

Let's quickly bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. What are you learning, Barbara?


Fort Meyer Henderson Hall, really just less than a mile from where we're standing here at the Pentagon. This is a local base where Army and Marine Corps personnel live and work.

Earlier today a suspicious package arrived, and the initial information we are getting is that three people fell ill. Potential symptoms of burning hands. One nosebleed. It is all being looked after now by federal law enforcement.

We are also told that FBI officials are on their way to the scene to monitor it, to try and determine exactly what has transpired there.

And as we know, when these suspicious packages arrived, the most important thing is to get everybody help, if they need it, get them medical attention, and then begin to conduct tests on the package, whatever substances may be involved, and try and determine as quickly as possible what actually is in the package, in the letter, and what people may have been exposed to. So right now, what we know, three military personnel potentially --

potentially -- exposed to hazardous substance, suffering some symptoms, getting medical attention. FBI on the way to this location here in Washington, D.C., tonight at rush hour.

It may cause some disruption as people try and make their way home. They're trying to figure out exactly what has happened, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we're told, Barbara, that these -- the three who have been injured by this suspicious letter -- a corporal, a gunnery sergeant, and a colonel -- all exhibiting symptoms of burning hands and face. One person, as you point out, has a nosebleed as well.

We often hear about suspicious letters arriving at various places. It usually turns out to be a hoax, but if people are suffering in a specific way, this, clearly, is much more serious.

STARR: Well, FBI, on their way. And we do know that they are trying on determine if -- and, of course, if anybody else has been impacted by it. And it is concerning, Wolf, because at federal facilities, these days, and especially military facilities including the Pentagon, incoming mail, incoming packages, generally are screened before they are delivered to their final destination.

Now, we don't know if this was a mail screening facility on the base where this happened, but typically, people can't really just suddenly open mail. It has to go through some type of screening situation.

I think you're potentially seeing some local affiliate news video there right now. And, again, it was -- this is something -- it's along some major commuting routes that people transit every day here in the metropolitan Washington area.

What goes on at Joint Base Fort Myer Henderson Hall -- and it's adjacent, by the way, to Arlington National Cemetery. You find a lot of various local military activities there. Not everybody, but typically, there are some very young military forces -- military troops, I should say, who live in the vicinity. There are some housing facilities for the military nearby.

And you typically do find some younger people living there, but there is a section of this area where very senior people live. Military personnel live in individual family homes. There are community recreation facilities there. There is an awful lot that goes on there.

I want to hasten to add, no indication that it has spread beyond this one point in the area there. But we're going to have to find out an awful lot more about how this happened and what exactly may be involved here tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, this photo that we're showing our viewers, Barbara, a passerby happened to spot it. First responders on the scene. It looks like they're treating U.S. military personnel there on the ground, treating them for various problems as a result of this suspicious letter.

Once again, three U.S. military personnel -- a corporal, a gunnery sergeant, and a colonel -- all exhibiting symptoms of burning hands and face. One person had a nosebleed following the arrival of what is clearly being described as a suspicious letter.

I know, Barbara, you're working your sources. We'll get more information and update our viewers shortly, but there's other breaking news we're following as shocking new details are emerging tonight about the Florida high school shooting.

Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us right now.

Evan, what are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this shooting, as terrible as it was, could have been a lot worse.

We're learning that this shooter had about 180 rounds of ammunition left on him when he dropped the weapon inexplicably and walked away, tried to melt in with the crowd of students as they have tried to flee that building there in Parkland, Florida.

So he had fired almost about 150 rounds already and he had 180 more in the magazines that he had with him.

Curiously enough, the investigators have found that some of the magazines, including the ones that -- the one that he was using that was in the rifle that he was shooting had Swastikas etched into them.

[17:49:56] And, again, this is part of the investigation. They're not sure exactly what his motivations were that day, Wolf.

This is a very well-to-do community on the outskirts of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale area. We don't know whether or not that was part of his motivation. Again, this is all part of the investigation.

Another thing that the investigators have come upon is there are indications that the shooter tried to break a window in the building. And the theory among the investigators is that perhaps he was trying to -- he was going to use that to try to shoot outside of the building, perhaps aiming at first responders, at some of the students and some of the teachers who were fleeing, again, the scene of this massacre.

Again, this is all part of the investigation. Wolf, there's so much that they don't know about what the shooter was up to and why he did what he did.

BLITZER: Yes. The fact that there were Swastikas etched into that.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: Were there any other indications that he had some -- well, we'll get to that shortly, but there's other news we got to follow right now. Evan, I know you're working your sources as well. There's troubling new evidence tonight that Kim Jong-un's North Korea

is sharing technology that could be used to produce some of the world's most dangerous and illegal weapons of mass destruction. Let's bring in Brian Todd who is working the story for us.

Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that Kim Jong-un has no conscience when it comes to using chemical weapons. He's used them to kill his own half-brother.

Tonight, we have new information from sources that Kim has shipped chemical weapons' parts and expertise to another leader who has no conscience about using them.


TODD (voice-over): New evidence tonight of a sinister partnership between Kim Jong-un and the murderous regime of Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad.

A United Nations source tells CNN, North Korea has been sending supplies that could be used to produce chemical weapons to Syria. The source says a new unreleased U.N. report based on a secret investigation found that parts including valves and thermometers used to turn those chemicals into deadly bombs have been shipped by Kim's regime.

ANDREW WEBER, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR NUCLEAR, CHEMICAL & BIOLOGICAL DEFENSE PROGRAMS: It's very alarming because North Korea has the world's largest stockpile of chemical weapons and the technology to produce it, and Syria has repeatedly used chemical weapons and continues to do so against its own people.

TODD (voice-over): The new report also found that North Korean missile technicians have been spotted working at chemical weapons facilities inside Syria.

WEBER: The North Koreans have unique expertise that could help Syria reconstitute the chemical weapons production capacity that they once had that was destroyed by the U.N. in 2014, or they could be helping with missile technology and perhaps a combination.

TODD (voice-over): This wouldn't be the first time North Korea and Syria formed a dangerous alliance. A decade ago, U.S. intelligence officials accused North Korea of helping Syria build a reactor which could have been used to make nuclear weapons. The Israeli military bombed it.

News of the secret U.N. report comes just as America is losing the key diplomat who manages North Korea policy. Joseph Yun, who brokered the release of dying American student, Otto Warmbier, from North Korean custody last year, is retiring.

ABRAHAM DENMARK, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR EAST ASIA: Losing him is a big hit, and it comes at a critical moment. The Olympics have ended, and there's a big question if the U.S. and North Korea are going to be able to find a way to talk to one another.

TODD (voice-over): With Yun's departure, the U.S. will have no top envoy on North Korea and no U.S. ambassador to South Korea since the candidacy of Victor Cha was withdrawn in January. The Trump administration said today it would not discuss a timeline to name an ambassador nominee.

DENMARK: Even if the North Koreans did want to talk to us credibly, it's unclear who they would actually be able to talk to that has the endorsement of the President.

TODD (voice-over): Following what some see as diplomatic progress at the end of the winter Olympics where Ivanka Trump stood and clapped for athletes from both Koreas and where North Korean officials said the doors were opened for dialogue with the U.S., there are also new threats.

Analysts say there are signs of new activity at the site where Kim's regime produces nuclear fuel.

DR. PATRICK CRONIN, SENIOR ADVISOR AND SENIOR DIRECTOR OF THE ASIA- PACIFIC SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: North Korea did wonderful triple axels and smile diplomacy at Pyeongchang, but in reality, they've been working overtime on nuclear and missile programs. And the fear is and the expectation is that North Korea will conduct more tests of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles.


TODD: And U.S. officials and outside analysts are specifically worried tonight about the next big phase of Kim Jong-un's weapons program which could come within months or even weeks. A possible test of a long-range ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean, a missile with the range to hit the U.S. that could have a mock nuclear warhead on it when it's detonated.

Meanwhile, Wolf, we've got no immediate response from the North Korean and Syrian missions to the U.N. to that report that North Korea has shipped chemical weapons parts to Syria. Wolf?

BLITZER: Very disturbing information indeed. Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, the breaking news. As presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner loses his top-secret security clearances, the "Washington Post" reporting several countries have discussed how to manipulate Jared Kushner based on his complex business arrangements and his lack of foreign policy experience.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Clearance clampdown. Sources say Jared Kushner has been denied access to top-secret information after failing to get a full security clearance for more than a year. This as new reports reveal foreign officials are looking to manipulate the President's son-in-law and senior adviser.

[18:00:02] No power to act. The head of the National Security Agency says President Trump hasn't given the authority to fight Russian election interference.