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Trump Removes Security Clearance from Former CIA Director; Closing Arguments Heard in Manafort Trial. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired August 15, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He's next door in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:10] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Enemies list. President Trump makes a direct move against his critics, revoking the security clearance of the former CIA director, John Brennan, and threatening several other former national security officials. Like Richard Nixon, does President Trump now have an enemies list?

Outsmarted by Omarosa? Did President Trump take this unprecedented action to attempt to change the subject after being put on the defensive by a former aide and former "Apprentice" star? As one FOX News host put it, was the president outsmarted by Omarosa?

Ton of bricks. A new threat from the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, warning that if Special Counsel Robert Mueller does not finish his investigation within the next couple of weeks, quote, "We will just unload on him like a ton of bricks."

And closing arguments. The jury will now consider the fate of Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Both sides have wrapped up their closing arguments, with the prosecution telling jurors this is a case about lies.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And the breaking news, President Trump launches an extraordinary attack on a critic, revoking the security clearance of the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, and reviewing the clearances of several other former senior national security officials, all of whom have been critical at times of his administration.

An official with knowledge of the matter tells me that the nation's senior most intelligence official, Dan Coats, was not consulted and the CIA, quote, "caught off-guard by the move," which is an unprecedented use of presidential authority to punish his political rivals.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders today could not explain why the president never issued a similar statement revoking the clearance of his own former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who admitted to lying to the FBI.

I'll speak with Congressman Don Beyers, and our correspondents and specialists standing by now with full coverage.

Let's go straight, though, to the breaking news and CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, this is truly a bombshell. It is unprecedented. Take us through how this happened.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it certainly is a bombshell, and there's no ignoring that the White House made this announcement on a day where they are dealing with the fallout still from that staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman's tell-all book.

Now, the White House announced this at the briefing today, and then afterward, they sent out a letter of the statement from the president that was dated July 26. Three weeks ago, and three days after they first announced that they were considering revoking these security clearances.

Now, the White House has sent out an updated version of that letter that does not have that July 26 date on it, which is leading many to wonder if this is a distraction or a coincidence.


COLLINS (voice-over): The White House tonight changing the subject, announcing President Trump has revoked former CIA director John Brennan's security clearance in a highly unusual move.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS I'd like to begin by reading a statement from the president: "I've decided to revoke the security clearance of John Brennan, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency."

COLLINS: Sarah Sanders claiming Brennan leveraged his position as he criticized the Trump administration.

SANDERS: Mr. Brennan has recently leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly-sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outburst on the Internet and television about this administration.

COLLINS: The White House was unable to cite any evidence Brennan misused his intelligence access or monetized his proximity to it. Asked if this is tied directly to his criticism of Trump, Sarah Sanders said this.

SANDERS: Not at all. The president has a constitutional responsibility to protect classified information and who has access to it.

COLLINS: Yet, the White House is also reviewing clearances for nine other Democratic officials who have criticized the president. Including --

SANDERS: James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Bruce Ohr.

COLLINS: One name not on that list, former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian officials; yet the president never revoked his clearance. Asked why he is not on the list, the White House deflecting today.

SANDERS: Again, certainly, we would look at those if we deemed it necessary, and we'll keep you posted if that list gets updated.

COLLINS: The president's statement on clearances dated July 26, nearly three weeks ago. But it was just announced today as the White House struggles to defend itself from a crisis of its own making: the fallout from former staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman's tell-all book.

[17:05:17] The president remaining behind closed doors today as he lashed out at the special counsel on Twitter, calling the investigation "a rigged Russian witch hunt with no credibility." That as his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, argues the facts are up to them.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: No. Facts are not in the eye of the beholder.

GIULIANI: Yes, it is.

CUOMO: You're always welcome here to argue the case.


COLLINS: Now, John Brennan has responded, Jim, saying that he believes this is directly tied to his criticism of President Trump. He says it won't deter him going forward, but he does fear that this is sending a message to those who have their security clearances that they ought to hold their tongues -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's the one thing all the people on that list have in common; they have criticized this president. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's go in depth now with CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, as well as CNN law enforcement analyst John Campbell. He is a former FBI supervisory special agent.

Shimon, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, I'm told was not consulted on this decision. I'm also told that the CIA was, in the words of an official with knowledge, caught off-guard by this decision. Has this ever happened before? A president revoking a senior official's security clearance and threatening to do that to others?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No. Not that we know of, and certainly, this seems to be unprecedented, it appears, by all accounts. You've talked to people. I've talked to people. I've spoken to a national security lawyer who really says that that there's really no reason, no cause here. You would need cause to revoke someone's security clearance.

And to take such a step, right, you'd have to show, did the person leak classified information? Is the person under some kind of investigation, criminal or perhaps an internal investigation. And really, we have nothing, nothing to suggest any of this, certainly by the former CIA director.

So it is unprecedented. It is unprecedented for the White House to meddle in this, to go ahead and make decisions, again, for the sponsoring agency who here probably was the CIA, to circumvent the CIA, to go ahead and just do this unilaterally on their own and from the podium. Right? Nonetheless, before the American public, before the people there who watch these briefings. To do this in this fashion certainly unprecedented, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Josh, let's talk about the timing of this. Because not only does this happen when the White House is within something of a controversy with the former aide Omarosa but also exactly one day after John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, criticized President Trump in a tweet.

I'm going to read that tweet now. He said the following. "It's astounding how often you fail to live up to a minimum -- to minimum standards of decency, civility and probity." This is him addressing the president. "Seems like you will never understand what it means to be president. Nor what it takes to be a good, decent and honest person. So disheartening. So dangerous for our nation."

Is it a stretch to imagine, Josh Campbell, that this was political punishment for criticism like that?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Not at all. I think that definitely factors into play here.

I think there are three issues that are all happening at the same time. First of all, there's this issue of distraction. Now you think about the major issues that are going -- taking place right now. You have the Paul Manafort trial. The president's former campaign aide who's being prosecuted. You have the Omarosa revelations. You know, we've been talking the last couple of days about these racial epithets, possibly, the president's been accused of uttering. And this is all an attempt to distract.

I'm convinced that there is a running list inside the White House of topics that they can pull from whenever they need to try to distract.

The second issue comes down to the tweet that you just mentioned. I think it's an issue of impulse. Now, this is a president who, you know -- he gets some type of cathartic release by going after his enemies. I'm sure he saw the tweet and was very angry. By striking back, this is payback for Brennan for that. But then the last issue, I think, if you look at the collection of these officials that have been targeted, it's the idea that this is another instance of trying to discredit this ongoing investigation into Russian interference, because many of these people had a role either in the investigation or in calling out that Russian interference. And now tying in this specifically Bruce Ohr, Justice Department official who I don't think criticized the president but was involved up in that orbit just kind of shows what it's all about here. I think that at the end of the day the motives here are sinister, selfish and serious implications for U.S. National security.

SCIUTTO: One of the things they disagreed with this president on is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia unequivocally interfered in the election. Clapper, Brennan and others. That's just one of many points of contention.

Shimon, we did the math here on this long list of people targeted now. Nearly 300 years of experience in government. Some 268 years of national security experience. You look at James Clapper there, 47 years going back to the Vietnam War. Michael Hayden, nearly 40 years. Brennan was in the CIA for 25 years.

Is this consequential for the intelligence community, for them to lose this eligibility for access?

[17:10:09] PROKUPECZ: Well, certainly it is because, Jim, when you think about it, what if the current CIA director wants to call John Brennan and say, "Hey, you were dealing with an issue while you were CIA director, and I need to talk to you about this." And it's a classified matter, a secret matter. He now cannot talk to her about that matter.

In the case of the former DNI director, James Clapper, he said on our air around 3 p.m. was that he has talked to former White House officials. This now does not essentially allow these people in the case of the former CIA director John Brennan to have the classified secret conversations with current officials. They may want to bring him in for him expertise on any number of issues. So that's where the consequence could be in terms of on a national security level, certainly in the current administration.

SCIUTTO: You know what John Brennan was in charge of, by the way? Just a reminder, he was the point man on Osama bin Laden at the time when he was killed in an operation. Experience that might be valuable in the war on terrorism. Imagine that.

Josh, what kind of signal does this send to those former officials or current officials who stand up and criticize this administration or the president or its policies? Is this intended to silence them?

CAMPBELL: It possibly is intended. I know it's certainly a by- product. This chilling effect that is now going to go out to anyone who may be in a position of wanting to speak out to criticize what they are seeing in this administration.

But I can tell you what. You look at the caliber of the people, these individuals who have dedicated much of the career and lives to public service. I don't agree with everything that they've said. I don't agree with some of the language that's been used to criticize the president, but I know to a person these are patriots. And I know more like them in government. They may -- you know, the intention here may be to try to deter them from speaking out, but that's not going to stop good people from standing up whenever they sense wrongdoing and pointing it out.

SCIUTTO: We got do remind people. These folks, they have served Republican and Democratic presidents, multiple times. Not an issue of politics in their career. They've served both Republicans and Democrats.

Shimon Prokupecz, Josh Campbell, thanks very much.

We're joined now by Congressman Don Beyers, Democrat from the great state of Virginia; also a former lieutenant governor of Virginia, I should mention. Thanks very much for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: It bear repeating you tweeted after this came out today very strong words about this decision. I'll just repeat it for the sake of our audience. You said, quote, "Trump is clearly punishing John Brennan for criticizing him, cracking down on a dissent and retaliating against a private citizen's free speech. The president has adopted the weak, paranoid, authoritarian behavior of a dictator."

Those are strong words; those are remarkable words.

BEYER: But it's also very clear. I mean, this is a striking move towards authoritarianism. You know, this is what dictators do. They shut down the press. They shut down dissent. They jail their opponents. Or in this case, they steal their security clearance.

And it's mean; it's petty, and it's ironic, given that Ivanka and Jared have security clearances, who are busy having secret meetings with Russians about hacking e-mails, as opposed to a patriot who served our country for all these years.

SCIUTTO: What are you and your colleagues in the House going to do about this? Do you have any Republican support for responding to this?

BEYER: We've had very little in the House. There have been a number of Republican senators -- I don't know about just today -- but over the past couple of weeks that have been willing to speak up.

We're not going to pass legislation in the next couple of months to address this. However, we need to do that in the years to come. One of the pieces of legislation that's floating around right now takes away the president's ability to provoke a security clearance and gives it to the director of national intelligence with the director of CIA.

SCIUTTO: Do you have any Republican support for a measure like that? BEYER: Not yet. Maybe after today we'll get it. You know, what's

amazing was that this is going to be a -- the Gina Haspel appointment was supposed to be good for the CIA, so that somebody from inside could come up. This is really going to tear down that morale.

SCIUTTO: At the end of the day, remember, when this first came up, Speaker Ryan was asked about this. And he kind of laughed it off, and he said, it sounds like the president is trolling. That was the word he used.

Clearly, though, the president has now made a consequential decision here.

BEYER: It's incredibly impulsive. You know, but I agree with Josh. We've talked about distracting us from other things. Omarosa's book. His tweet about calling her a dog. The Manafort hearing -- trial. These are all things that have got to be very upsetting to the president.

SCIUTTO: Beyond the pettiness of this, there is a consequence to this, is there not? Because these are very experienced national security officials who -- and the reason they keep these clearances, so that they might be consulted when the country is under threat.

If they're revoked, as John Brennan's has now been revoked, that can't happen if there's another 9/11, for instance.

BEYER: Oh, my God. And to lose the wisdom and insight of a Clapper, a Hayden, a Brennan. People that were there when we captured Obama [SIC]. Who were there for both Bushes and Reagan and Obama. This is an incredible amount of really important insight into how the world works. And we instead got Donald Trump with very little insight leading this.

[17:15:07] SCIUTTO: Is this an enemies list on par with Nixon's?

BEYER: It sure looks like Nixon's. But out there. I mean, Nixon's at least was hidden until the tapes, I think. You've got the press secretary reading the enemies list on national television.

SCIUTTO: Yes, exactly. It's funny how often in these situations it's not something that's sort of whispered in a corridor. It's something that's writ large in the public.

Of course, this comes as this White House is facing troubles. It has a former aide now accusing the president of using horrible racial epithets, claiming she has a tape. We haven't seen any evidence of that yet, and it may not be true. But still, it's a controversy that this White House clearly does not like.

Do you see through this as a transparent attempt just to find -- to turn the page?

BEYER: Well, I think it could be all these things at once. It clearly is distracting, but he's also so impulsive and so undisciplined and so emotionally reactive. It could just be anger, also. Someone suggested today that -- will we revoke his security clearance when he's no longer president? We've never done that for a president before, but he's setting that kind of precedent.

SCIUTTO: Sources with knowledge tell me that the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, the -- by statute the senior-most intelligence official in the country, not consulted on this decision. I'm told by another source with knowledge that the CIA -- of course, John Brennan, the former director of the CIA -- the CIA was caught off-guard by this decision.

Should that be worrisome to the American people, that the president is making intelligence decisions of consequence without consulting his senior-most appointed advisers?

BEYER: Jim, it should be of great concern to Americans but no surprise at this time. When he did his Helsinki visit with Putin, I mean, once again, Dan Coats said, quote, "He said what?" They're catching the intelligence community totally off-guard again and again. And it's a shame, because these are the people who have decades of experience that understand how best to proceed.

SCIUTTO: If this is, indeed, a threat to national security, to make a political, you might even say a petty decision like this, with consequences, as a co-equal branch of government, Congress, must Congress stand up now to check the president on this kind of behavior?

BEYER: Yes. Absolutely. And I think that's what the American people expect. They don't expect us to be vindictive or mean, but they do expect there to be a check and balance. And that, when he's wrong or when he goes a step too far, we've got to say enough. I hope -- not just with our words and with our tweets but also with legislation.

SCIUTTO: If you take back the House, will you pass legislation to prevent this?

BEYER: Absolutely. And I hope we fashion it in a form that it can get the 60 votes in the Senate. It will be important to put it on his desk, even if he vetoes it.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Beyer, thanks very much for taking the time.

BEYER: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, the breaking news. Blistering reaction from lawmakers after President Trump revokes the security clearance of the former director of the CIA and threatens several other former senior officials.

And the Paul Manafort case will now go to the jury after closing arguments wrap up in the fraud and tax evasion trial of the former chairman of the Trump campaign.


[17:22:20] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Our breaking news, an unprecedented prove by President Trump, revoking the security clearance of the man who used to lead the CIA, John Brennan. And threatening to do the same thing for other senior former national security officials. Officials, all of whom have been critical at times of his administration.

There is sharp reaction on Capitol Hill. CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is there.

Are you hearing pushback now, Manu, from both Democrats and Republicans?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this point, just Democrats seizing on these -- this news. Criticizing the administration's move, saying it looks like a lot like Richard Nixon's use of an enemies list, to retaliate in unprecedented ways against critics and raising some significant national security concerns, particularly for someone like John Brennan, who knows a lot of the secrets and presumably could help with some key issues that are facing the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

So far, not much coming from Republicans. But the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, told us that he is concerned that this is just going to be the start, and perhaps the Mueller probe is next.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE-CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: To have either their clearances revoked or in the process of being revoked to me smacks of Nixonian type practices of trying to silence anyone who's willing to criticize this president.

RAJU: Do you think they're going to go after the Mueller investigation next?

WARNER: There would be nothing this White House would do that would surprise me at this point. Because this White House is clearly under siege and will stop at nothing to try to divert people's attention.


RAJU: Warner was suggesting that perhaps the president would try to remove the security clearances of those prosecutors as part of that Mueller investigation.

Republicans, as I said, earlier, Jim, have not yet weighed in on this. Senators are just getting back to Washington. We plan to press them on this. And the House members have been on recess.

You'll recall last month, Speaker Paul Ryan said this is just the president, quote, "trolling people." He said this is in the purview of the executive branch, not the legislative branch. But he has not commented yet now that the president has actually taken this action and revoked the security clearance, Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's more than trolling. The president's team took another really alarming shot at the Mueller probe, the special counsel. What's the latest attack?

RAJU: yes, that's right. Rudy Giuliani, who's the president's attorney, told Bloomberg this. That "If he doesn't get it done in the next two or three weeks, we will just unload on him like a ton of bricks. Write the damn report so we can see it and rebut it."

It raises quite a lot of questions about what exactly he means. Of course, they have been criticizing the Mueller probe relentlessly, and there's no signs that this is going to wrap up by September, as Giuliani and the White House have been demanding.

[17:25:10] Of course, we know that at least one witness is coming on September 7. There's no signs that there's any resolution to when the president to sit down with the Mueller team.

So perhaps this is going to be just a further escalation of the rhetoric we're hearing from the White House and the president's team, trying to undercut the credibility of the Mueller probe in order to rile up their base heading into the midterms, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I wonder what he's talking about rebutting. Interesting. CNN's Manu Raju, thanks very much.

More breaking news now. Closing arguments wrapped up in the fraud and tax evasion trial of the former chairman of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort.

CNN's Kara Scannell, she's been in that courthouse. She's outside the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, right now.

Kara, this is Robert Mueller's first case to go to trial. How important is it for him, for the broader investigation, to come away with a conviction here?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this is a high-stakes prosecution, and if Mueller's team wins, I think it will send shock waves through the Trump camp, to his allies, friends and others who worked on the campaign, just to show the strength of the Mueller investigation and the persuasiveness of their case.

But if the prosecution loses here, it will also embolden those who are calling for this investigation to end. Like Manu just said, Rudy Giuliani is saying that the Mueller team needs to wrap this up. And wrapping it up is what happened today.

We heard closing arguments from both sides, with prosecutors saying that Manafort lied to keep his fortune and then, when that fortune dried up, he lied again to banks to persuade them to give him $20 million in loans.

Now, the prosecutors also tackled the issue of Rick Gates, Manafort's right-hand man, telling the jury that they didn't have to like him, that the defense's raising of affairs that Rick Gates may have had was a distraction, and telling the jury that it was the documents that were the star witness, not Rick Gates, Jim. SCIUTTO: Now, I understand that the defense's closing brought up

Trump's [SIC] time as campaign chairman. How did it factor into the closing arguments?

SCANNELL: That's right, Jim. So the defense brought up Manafort's role in the Trump campaign and other presidential campaigns right at the get-go. They did this in a way that was suggesting but not directly saying that this prosecution was politically motivated.

So the defense team was arguing that the prosecutors were digging through Manafort's files to try to find a charge, that they were stacking up the charges against Manafort.

And they pointed to one loan that Manafort had applied for but did not get, asking the jury why would you have that additional count? What would that be about? So pressing the jury to consider what the motivations were behind this prosecution.

Now, the judge had earlier told them that they couldn't make this argument, so he said he would instruct the jury that they could not consider any motives of the Department of Justice. The judge is currently giving the jury instructions on the law, which is still ongoing. Once that wraps up, the case will go to the jury, and they'll begin deliberations, Jim.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Kara Scannell outside the courthouse, thanks very much.

Coming up, breaking news, President Trump making really an unprecedented move against his critics, revoking the security clearance of the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, and threatening several other former national security officials.

Plus, is the president trying to change the subject after being put on the defensive by a former aide and former "Apprentice" star? Was he simply outsmarted by Omarosa?



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Back to our breaking news. President Trump has now revoked the security clearance of the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, 25-year veteran of the CIA. President says he's considering similar action now against former FBI director James Comey, former director of national intelligence James Clapper, former CIA director, as well, Michael Hayden, and several others. You see them there.

[17:33:25] Let's get more reaction and analysis from our experts.

John Kirby, you know, beyond the spectacle here, are there national security consequences to this? We did a little math, and the ten names that he rattled off, or Sarah rather Sanders rattled off, have 268 years of experience in national security. You want the ability to call on their expertise, do you not, by maintaining these clearances and calling them in if you have a crisis?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Any normal administration, absolutely, Jim. This one, probably not so much. I can't see these guys bringing in Hayden and Clapper in to talk or Brennan to talk.

But what he's done could affect future administrations and future opportunities to bring in and pull in on their expertise. And you're right. They have a lot of experience that the nation should be able to draw from.

There's also going to be, in my view, a chilling effect downstream. So all these men have said that this isn't going to necessarily change the way they speak or write and talk.


KIRBY: I get that. But there are plenty of other, at the mid-level officials, former officials who still have clearances, who still need those clearances to either do their jobs or to help advise at lower levels in the administration. And this decision by the president could have a real chilling effect on them.

SCIUTTO: Director Clapper said on our air earlier that there have been circumstances where he's been in touch with intelligence officials on issues of the day. I imagine there are a whole host -- I think you mentioned you still have a clearance. It's not like you're walking into a --

KIRBY: I don't have access to intelligence anymore.

SCIUTTO: Right. And that is a clear -- you don't have access, you can't just walk in at any moment.

KIRBY: Right.

SCIUTTO: But you are eligible to see that information if called upon.

KIRBY: If there was -- if there was a need.

SCIUTTO: Fair enough.

[17:35:00] When you looked at this decision Susan Hennessey, also served at the NSA, one of the intelligence agencies, were any of the reasons cited by Sarah Sanders cause for revoking someone's security clearance?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No. Absolutely not. Look, it's abundantly clear that this has absolutely nothing to do with security whatsoever. We know that because none of the ordinary officials were consulted. The ordinary process wasn't used. And because there are important security reasons to allow this type of consultation. That distinction between eligibility and access, John Brennan lost access as soon as he left the government, as everybody does.

KIRBY: Exactly.

HENNESSEY: What Trump did today was revoke his eligibility to see classified information. That means whenever the director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, the director of ODNI, high-ranking intelligence officials feel, for national security purposes, that they need to consult with Brennan -- you can understand why you want to be able to talk to the person who was in office before you -- it's going to be more difficult for them to do that.

SCIUTTO: John Brennan was the point man on Osama bin Laden at the time when he was killed. You're looking for another terror bad guy. Might you want to consult someone with that level of experience?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Not if you're Donald Trump, apparently.


BORGER: If you're Donald Trump you don't think you need to consult anybody except yourself. I mean, this is --

SCIUTTO: Might the American people want their president to consult people with that kind of experience?

BORGER: I think they might. I think they would. I think they should. And this is an abuse of power. This is a First Amendment issue.

These are people who happen to disagree with Donald Trump on certain issues regarding national security. As a result of speaking out, which is what we are allowed to do in this country, they are being punished. They are being told, "We're going to strip your security clearance away from you."

Now, some of these people, because they didn't do their research, some of these people didn't have clearance anymore. But they stripped them. It's petty. It's bullying. It's an abuse of power. And it is a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Period.

SCIUTTO: Nia-Malika, is this an enemies list?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL WRITER: It certainly seems like an enemies list, and I think comes at a very opportune time for Donald Trump or inopportune time, which he's trying to essentially change the subject. We've obviously been talking about Omarosa Manigault-Newman for the last couple of days, raising very uncomfortable topics for this president, whether or not he used the "N"-word. You saw the White House yesterday not able to dismiss that out of hand. Talk about just racism in this administration. So that was very uncomfortable.

So you have the president doing something very classic, changing the subject here. The question is, I mean, we've seen this before. Does he sort of conjure up something out of thin air going forward to do the same thing? The other interesting thing about this, is this wasn't really Donald

Trump's idea. Right? This was something that was floated on FOX News for months and months before he did it. Then Rand Paul picked it up, went to the White House and talked to him about it. It's been on Breitbart. Tucker Carlson has mentioned it, as well. So this is -- this is what we get.

SCIUTTO: I want to remind people, folks, in the category of it's rich for the White House to make this decision now. Just a few months ago in February when the security clearance of Rob Porter, the former White House staffer who was escorted out of the building because of evidence that he abused two of his former wives, I believe, Sarah Sanders punted on the question of security clearance with this explanation. Have a listen.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, this is a process that isn't -- doesn't operate within the White House. It's handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we support that process.

It's the same process that has been used for decades for other -- in previous administrations. And we're relying on that process at this point.

I do think that it's up to those same law enforcement and intelligence agencies to determine if changes need to be made to their process.


SCIUTTO: "We support that process. It's handled by our law enforcement and intelligence community." I'm told today that the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, was not consulted and that the CIA was caught off-guard by this.

BORGER: There isn't a process. There is Donald Trump.


BORGER: Who says, maybe listening to Rand Paul or whoever he was listening to, saying, you know, "These guys are out there criticizing me. I'm going to cut them off. And by the way, I want to change the subject," as Nia saying about, you know, from Omarosa. But what process is she talking about here?

HENNESSEY: But there is a process that actually does exist. There is a process to --

BORGER: They're not using it.


HENNESSEY: When there's cause.

SCIUTTO: When there's cause. HENNESSEY: And even a process for an exemption of that. Whenever the

White House wants to circumvent that process, they can get the signature from the head of the affected agencies. So Dan Coats or Gina Haspel.

BORGER: Right.

HENNESSEY: What -- what we see from them circumventing the process, and essentially the president invoking his constitutional authority, is he couldn't get either of those people to put their name to a piece of paper saying that this actually was a security threat at all. And it actually could open him up. Ordinarily courts refuse to look at these questions.

SCIUTTO: There's cause to revoke a security clearance like, for instance, not putting important information on your security clearance form, as the president's son-in-law did repeatedly.

BORGER: What about Flynn? General Flynn. who lied to the FBI.


[18:40:04] BORGER: Does he still have his security clearance?

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because in the category of was this an intentional distraction, caught by our White House team, my colleague, our colleague Jeff Zeleny, the statement announcing this, as released by the White House after that press briefing, was dated July 26, 2018. That this was apparently composed some -- more than two weeks ago. The White House later said that was a cut and paste mistake. I don't know how you cut and paste a date, you know, to this.

But it looks like, Gloria Borger, does it not, and you've been involved in statements like this before, John Kirby.

KIRBY: Not like this. I haven't backdated things like this.

SCIUTTO: No, I hear you. It looks like it was on the shelf and, lo and behold, we've got an Omarosa problem. Let's drop it today.

KIRBY: Certainly has all the hallmarks of trying to change the topic and get us to talk about something else.

I can't for the life of me think why they would think that us talking about this is any better for them than talking about Omarosa's book. Because this is an abuse of power.

Look, Theodore Roosevelt said it was morally treasonable to suggest that the president is above criticism and he shouldn't be criticized. And I really think that this White House and this president crossed that line today.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, guys, thanks so much. There's much more to talk about. Coming up, we'll stay on top of this breaking news.

President Trump revoking the security clearance of the former director of the CIA, John Brennan. But first, authorities now investigating cyberattacks against the Democratic opponent of -- listen to this -- a congressman known for his pro-Russia views. We're going to bring you the details of that alarming story just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: Breaking news now. The FBI's reportedly investigating cyberattacks against the Democratic opponent of a prominent pro- Russian Republican congressman.

Our Nick Watt has been working the story for us. Nick, were these sophisticated attacks? And do we know yet where they came from?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we do not yet know where they came from, but we have spoken to this candidate who claims he was hacked. He is Dr. Hans Keirstead, and he was running against Dana Rohrabacher in California's 48th.

Now, he says that, quote, "My company was attacked multiple times, and it was very sophisticated. My congressional campaign was attacked multiple times. It was a very concerted effort. It was very real."

Now apparently, the main thrust of the attacks, which according to "Rolling Stone," which first broke this, they say that there were attacks on the candidate's e-mail, on the campaign's website and on social media platforms.

Now, the tactic for the e-mail is something called spear phishing. So somebody pretends to be someone else, sends you an e-mail, trying to induce you into clicking a link and giving away information. That is apparently what happened.

Now, the candidate himself says that he has been in contact with the FBI. We have not yet managed to confirm that the FBI is indeed on this case.

But this does bear hallmarks of attacks of some other alleged attacks we've seen on the DNC, for example during the 2016 campaign, and Mueller, in their -- one of their indictments of those Russian intelligence officers, claim that this same tactic, this spear phishing, was used on various election officials in Florida.

So no one is saying yet who is definitely behind this, but people are definitely whispering this could be Russia, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. John Podesta, that's how he was gotten, on spear phishing e-mail.

Anymore special scrutiny given to the fact that Rohrabacher, who presumably would benefit to some degree from this, happens to be a congressman who is very pro-Russian, very strident in his pro-Russian views? Is that relevant to the investigation?

WATT: Well, it's perhaps not relevant but it is certainly raising some eyebrows. And by the way, no indications that any of these attacks actually were successful or impacted the vote in the primary at all. But, listen, Rohrabacher is disparagingly known by some as Putin's

favorite congressman. He has made a number of trips to Russia. He has claimed that Russia was not in fact behind the DNC. He has also kind of pooh-poohed claims about Russian human rights violations.

You know, he is clearly a friend of Russia, is pushing for closer ties with Russia. So that does bring this into more focus, brings more attention on this.

But as I say, Jim, there is, as yet, no indication, no proof we have, that, indeed, Russia was behind this hack. And certainly nothing to suggest that Rohrabacher himself was, in any way, involved -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Nick Watt, thanks for looking into it. I know there's still a lot more to investigate there.

Coming up, more on our top story, President Trump revoking the security clearance of the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, threatening the same action against several formal -- former intelligence officials.

Plus, as a feud between the President and former aide Omarosa rages, new questions about his use of nondisclosure agreements. Was President Trump trying to buy her silence?


[17:51:51] SCIUTTO: Tonight, amid accusations from former White House aide Omarosa that President Trump tried to buy her silence, new questions about the use of nondisclosure agreements inside this administration. Our Brian Todd has the details.

Brian, how common are these?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're common, at least among the Trump people, Jim.

President Trump is furious with Omarosa. Some say he is panicking over her new book, and he is coming after her for violating a nondisclosure agreement she signed to work with his 2016 campaign.

Trump biographers say his obsession with those agreements reflects the backstabbing, paranoid culture of his inner circles.



TODD (voice-over): President Trump, in typical fashion, lashing out against a former aide who he feels betrayed him, with vicious name- calling of Omarosa Manigault-Newman and claims that she violated a deal with him.

Trump tweeting -- wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed nondisclosure agreement. Trump's presidential campaign tonight is demanding Omarosa face an

arbitration panel for violating an NDA she signed. NDA for nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreement.

Omarosa's explosive new book, "Unhinged," portrays Trump as unfit for office. She tells a dramatic tale of refusing a cushy $15,000 a month retainer from Trump's 2020 campaign because it came with another NDA.


TODD (voice-over): If Omarosa's NDA with the campaign was anything like the one CNN obtained from another 2016 Trump campaign source, she could be in violation. Quote, you hereby promise and agree not to demean or disparage Mr. Trump.

NDAs prohibit an employee from badmouthing a former employer. They're widely used in companies and often in campaigns. Omarosa says she did not sign an NDA with the Trump White House, but White House officials say many others there have signed them.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have confidentiality agreements in the West Wing. Absolutely, we do.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, AUTHOR, "THE TRUTH ABOUT TRUMP": The idea is to make someone very afraid, afraid primarily for their reputation and their bank account.

TODD (voice-over): Some on the Trump team say other administrations have also forced White House staffers to sign NDAs. A former Obama communications director told us she knows of no one in the Obama White House who had to sign one.

JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I was never asked to sign a nondisclosure agreement when I was working on the Obama presidential campaign, when I was working on the Kerry presidential campaign, and certainly not in the White House, except when it related to classified information.

TODD (voice-over): But Donald Trump has a history of using NDAs, both for his businesses and his private life. This nondisclosure agreement is the one drawn up between Trump's lawyer and porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she once had an affair with Trump.

A Trump biographer says his obsession with NDAs speaks volumes about the culture in Trump's inner circles and his own paranoia.

D'ANTONIO: This idea of someone speaking negatively about him really does enrage him. It makes him furious, and it makes him eager to exact revenge.


TODD: CNN is told a lot of Trump White House staffers are now no longer signing nondisclosure or non-disparagement agreements. People close to the White House is telling CNN they are largely seen now as pretty much unenforceable -- Jim.

[17:55:07] SCIUTTO: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Coming up, breaking news. President Trump launching an unprecedented attack on a critic, revoking the security clearance of the former director of the CIA, John Brennan, and threatening other former senior national security officials with the same punishment. Does the President now have an enemy's list?


SCIUTTO: Happening now, punishing critics. President Trump revokes the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan, threatens to do the same to other prominent opponents within the intelligence community. Is that an abuse of power? We're getting new reaction this hour.