Return to Transcripts main page


Former Head of Special Ops Tells Trump to Revoke His Clearance, Too. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 16, 2018 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- if Mr. Trump punishes him, too.

Awaiting a verdict. Jurors in Paul Manafort's trial just sent a note to the judge asking multiple questions. What might the president do if his former campaign chairman is convicted?

And heart and soul, Aretha Franklin is being honored for her legendary voice, her role in the Civil Rights Movement and the joy she's given audiences for decades.

Tonight, we remember the Queen of Soul.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Acosta. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: And we're following breaking news on President Trump at war with prominent critics who are defying his efforts to muzzle them. Tonight Omarosa Manigault-Newman says she'll do whatever it takes to protect herself from the president.

This as CNN has learned about a threatening letter a Trump campaign lawyer sent the publisher of her scathing White House memoir.

Also tonight former CIA director John Brennan is declaring that Mr. Trump's claim that there was no collusion is hogwash. The president now openly admitting that his fury over the Russia investigation drove him to revoke Brennan's security clearance.

I'll get reaction from the House Judiciary Committee member Ted Lieu and our correspondents and analysts, they're also standing by.

First to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. Kaitlan, what are you learning about this letter to Omarosa's publisher?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jay, we've got this letter and in it Omarosa's publisher is responding to a letter that they received from the attorney for the president's reelection campaign Charles Hader. Now in this letter they say that they got a letter from Charles Harder, excuse me, saying that -- recounting the details of a nondisclosure agreement that Omarosa signed with the 2016 Trump campaign. You'll recall the campaign said that she violated that NDA that she signed and they filed an arbitration action against her earlier this week.

Now in this letter in response from the publisher, they are saying that the president's counsel for the reelection campaign threatened that the publication of this Manigault-Newman's book "Unhinged" will subject Simon and Shuster to substantial monetary damages and punitive damages. They responded to that in this letter saying our client will not be intimidated by hollow legal threats and have proceeded with the publication of the book as scheduled.

They go on to say, "In this letter -- your letter is nothing more than an obvious attempt to silence legitimate criticism of the president."

ACOSTA: And, Kaitlan, what if anything are we hearing from the president today? I suppose he was asked about some of these pressing questions by reporters. Did he have anything to say?

COLLINS: We did hear from the president at a cabinet meeting here at the White House today. He talked about trade, several other things, North Korea. But he did not respond to questions about Omarosa or about the White House's decision to announce yesterday that they're going to revoke the security clearance of the former CIA chief John Brennan and that they are considering revoking the security clearance of several other officials.


COLLINS (voice-over): President Trump going silent when it came to questions today.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is it appropriate for you to punish your critics, Mr. President?

COLLINS: As two of his loudest critics launched their attacks.


COLLINS: Former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman releasing another tape. This time with the president's daughter-in- law, discussing a role with the Trump 2020 campaign. Laura Trump offering her $15,000 a month for an undefined role as long as she kept things positive.

LAURA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: Sounds a little like obviously that there's some things you've got in the back pocket to pull out. Clearly if you come on board the campaign, like can't have -- we got to --


TRUMP: Everybody positive, right?

COLLINS: That conversation happening after a December interview where Omarosa said she'd seen things in the White House that made her uncomfortable. Omarosa left out what she said during the call, but said today she saw it as hush money. MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: I saw this as an attempt to buy my silence, to

censor me and to pay me off $15,000 per month by the campaign.

COLLINS: In a statement Laura Trump denying Omarosa's account, claiming the job offer was made before she was aware of Omarosa's gross violations of ethics and integrity in the White House. Asked if she's going to release more tapes, Omarosa playing coy.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: If I need to, I'll do what I have to do to protect myself. Donald Trump has met his match.

COLLINS: Omarosa releasing her fourth tape one day after that White House tried to extinguish her news cycle announcing President Trump has revoked the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, an outspoken critic who said his summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin was nothing short of treasonous.

Sarah Sanders offering these explanations for the unusual move.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: His erratic conduct and behavior. The history that calls into question, his objectivity and credibility, leveraged his status as a former high ranking official.

[18:05:08] COLLINS: But Trump upended that defense when he blurted out that the reason for revoking Brennan's clearance was the Russia investigation, telling the "Wall Street Journal," "I call it the rigged witch hunt. It is a sham. And these people led it." Adding, "It's something that had to be done."

Sanders and other officials staying quiet today. But Brennan did not, writing in an op-ed for the "New York Times," Mr. Trump's claims of no collusion are in a word hogwash.


COLLINS: Now, Jim, back to this exclusive letter. They are saying that President Trump can refute whatever he wants from this book, from his, quote, "bully pulpit" but they are going to go forward with publishing it as they said. However, we could be preparing ourselves for a legal fight between these two because they do include this key graph in their letter, saying that, "Should you pursue litigation against Simon and Schuster, we are confident that documents related to the contents of the book in possession of President Trump -- President Trump, his campaign, his family members, his businesses and his administration will prove particularly relevant to our defense" -- Jim.

ACOSTA: CNN's Kaitlan Collins, thank you.

And tonight, a high ranking military veteran is coming to John Brennan's defense, accusing the commander-in-chief of using McCarthy era tactics against his critics.

Let's bring in our CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

Manu, this is very strong pushback from a respected retired admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a highly respected military leader, a retired Navy admiral. William McRaven, of course he led U.S. Joint Special Forces from -- operations commander from 2011 to 2014. He oversaw that Navy SEAL raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, writing this scathing op-ed in an open letter to the "Washington Post" going after the president in very direct terms, saying he has not risen to the presidency and saying this, "I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well. You have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and worst of all divided us as a nation. If you think for a moment that your McCarthy era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken."

Now McRaven has been critical in the past of this president. Last year he had some very strong remarks about the president calling the press the enemy of the people, calling it, quote, "The greatest threat to democracy he's ever seen." And of course, he's seen a lot of threats to democracy over his years in the military, but very strong language today, Jim, siding with someone that he has served with, that he knows very well, John Brennan, in light of this move by the president just yesterday -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes. The admiral understands what the enemy of the people actually really means. And Manu, what about this reaction on Capitol Hill? Are Republican lawmakers, they coming down hard on the president about his stripping Brennan of his security clearance?

RAJU: In fact, they're actually defending him for the most part. By and large, Republicans say that it's the prerogative of this president. Even the Senate Intelligence chairman Richard Burr said that this op-ed that was written today by John Brennan suggesting there may have been collusion between Trump and Russia, well, he said if there's any collusion, it should be given to special counsel Mueller. That kind of evidence that Brennan may know. Otherwise he, Burr, suggested that the president is within his rights to strip his security clearance.

Other Republicans defended the president as well.


SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: I think the things that John Brennan has said over the past several months about this country has been disgraceful.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I think I've called him a butthead and I meant it. I think he's given the national intelligence community a bad name.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Mr. Brennan has gone way over the line in my view. And I think restricting his clearance -- pulling his clearance makes sense to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: And we still haven't heard from the top two leaders about this. House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have not said anything. And they have not also criticized this president, but there have been some criticism from some quarters, people who have been critical of the president in other areas including Senator Bob Corker, the retiring senator from Tennessee who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he said he was alarmed by this move and he likened it to a banana republic.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE; Look, I thought it's kind of a banana republic kind of thing. And it's been a continual sort of tearing down of institutions, causing Americans to lose faith in institutions instead of building them up. I mean, that's what's made our country function in the way that it is.


RAJU: But again, Jim, that's a rare criticism from a Republican. Today I talked to a bunch who generally said it's well within the president's right to do this.

[18:10:04] They did not have any concerns about the precedent this would set, even as Democrats reacted with significant alarm, worried that this may mean -- have significant ramifications for even the Mueller investigation if the president were to take steps to get rid of the security clearances of people investigating him and his campaign -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, CNN's Manu Raju, thank you very much for that.

Joining me now Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. What message does it send for Admiral McRaven to stand alongside John Brennan? That is a very scathing op-ed that we have coming in this evening from the admiral.

REP. TED LIEU (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you, Jim, for your question. That is a compelling op-ed by Admiral McRaven who oversaw the bin Laden raid, and you should ask, why are so many former high ranking military members and national security officials speaking out against the president. It's because they're seeing what the majority of the American people are seeing which is a president that is not acting in America's self interest and he's putting himself above everything else and it's causing damage to our nation.

And look, I have a security clearance as well. Both when I was in the Air Force as well as in Congress. And is the president just going to now start revoking people's security clearances because we say things he doesn't like? That's what dictators do.

ACOSTA: And the president told the "Wall Street Journal" about Brennan, quote -- and we put this up on our screen, "I call it a rigged witch hunt. It is a sham and these people led it. So I think it's something that had to be done."

What does that tell you?

LIEU: This is not a witch hunt because numerous people have pled guilty. We have people that have been indicted. You have the current national intelligence establishment that's supporting this investigation. So the president is doing everything he can to thwart this investigation.

I think what he did with revoking Brennan's security clearance is also relevant for special counsel Mueller to consider in his investigation because it goes to the intent of the president in trying to obstruct this investigation.

ACOSTA: And as you know, Congressman, the president is also trying to silence another critic Omarosa. You saw the letter from her publisher that Kaitlan Collins was just reporting on. You're a lawyer. Do you think legally he has any recourse here or is this another one of these episodes where the president for example says he's going to go after people and then he goes and go after them in court?

LIEU: It's just more bluster. Under the First Amendment is nearly impossible to stop publication of a book or of a newspaper. There's no nuclear launch codes in this book, there's no classified information. There's no way they're going to be able to stop it. So they're just trying to intimidate the publisher. And we see from the publisher that they're not be intimated. This book is going to come out.

ACOSTA: And Congressman, we're also following the latest developments in the Paul Manafort trial with the jury. And I'm sure you just saw this last hour here on THE SITUATION ROOM, the jury asking the judge to redefine reasonable doubt. I guess the jury wants to have, you know, exact guidance on what reasonable doubt means. I've seen this come up in trials before that I've covered over the years. It's a common question that juries have.

But it could be read as a development that potentially means that the jury may have doubts about whether or not Paul Manafort is guilty. What do you think? How does that bode for this trial? How do you read into that?

LIEU: As a former prosecutor, it's hard to tell from that question what it means for the trial because there's a lot of different charges in the indictment. It may be that they have possible doubts on some, but not others. So it's just too hard to tell what the jury means. But it's not a question that is unusual because these jurors are not lawyers. And so they just want a definition of reasonable doubt. And I think that's a fair question for them to ask.

ACOSTA: And how important is the verdict in Paul Manafort's trial for the Russia investigation and what do you make of this claim and comment that you hear from the president and his defenders that, well, the Paul Manafort trial doesn't really have anything to do with the Russia investigation because it's about tax issues and issues with his business background and so on. How critical is it to the Russia investigation, do you think?

LIEU: Whenever a prosecution goes to trial, they need to win. Otherwise they shouldn't be going to trial. And I think it would definitely not be helpful to Robert Mueller's investigation if Manafort was found innocent of all charges.

I think it's hard for that to happen, having looked at all the evidence presented. I though the prosecutors did a good job. Not just witnesses, but mountains of documentary evidence. I think it's going to be hard for the defense to get an acquittal on every single charge in that indictment.

ACOSTA: And you know, one of the interesting developments that we could see in the coming days when we get a verdict in this case, if Paul Manafort is found guilty, is what would happen in this city if President Trump decided to immediately or shortly thereafter decide to pardon Paul Manafort?

[18:15:02] And one of the things that you saw with the Republican response to stripping the security clearance of John Brennan was essentially that there were crickets in this city. Republicans really defended the president's decision there. And so it does raise the question would Republicans really say anything up on Capitol Hill if the president pardoned Paul Manafort?

What would you do if that were to take place and what would be your message to the Republican Party if the president were to take that step?

LIEU: I believe pardoning Paul Manafort would be grounds for impeachment. Whether Republicans would act on that, I don't think they would, which is why this November the voters across America have a chance to change the makeup of Congress and put in a real check and balance by putting in Democrats to control.

ACOSTA: But is there technically -- I mean, let's say a pardon were to happen before the November midterms, could -- I mean if the Republicans in control of Congress decide to do nothing, is there anything feasibly that Democrats in Congress could do at that point? You just have to watch the pardon happen --


LIEU: Special Counsel Mueller would take that into consideration if he believes that the president is doing it to obstruct justice. In other words if he's doing it because he doesn't want Paul Manafort in a second trial which is coming up to somehow plead guilty to that and start cooperating with prosecutors. It would depend on what Special Counsel Mueller believes the intent of the president was in pardoning Paul Manafort.

ACOSTA: OK. And since I brought up the midterms, I want to ask you this. Your party could potentially take back the House in November as you know, Congressman. You were just advocating for that a few moments ago. If the Democrats were to become the majority in the House in January after the midterms are over, would you support Nancy Pelosi for House speaker? And what do you make of some of these calls from some Democrats, you see Jim Clyburn being one of them, saying it's time for new leadership in that position, that Nancy Pelosi served her party over the years but it's time for fresh blood? What do you make of that and where do you fall when it comes to support for the speaker?

LIEU: It's pretty simple. I supported Leader Pelosi in the past, I will support her again.

ACOSTA: And no need for fresh blood as far as you're concerned? And what do you make when some of these moderate Democrats are running away from Nancy Pelosi in some of these elections? What is your message to them and what do you make of that argument that there is a need for some new leadership? Would that send a message to the voters do you think if there were some Democrats out there saying, OK, maybe it's time to bring in some fresh blood?

LIEU: Every member of Congress reflects their district and their own priorities. So I can't speak for other members of Congress, but for me I will support Leader Pelosi. I think she's done a fantastic job.

ACOSTA: All right. We'll put you down for your fellow Californian.

Ted Lieu, congressman from Los Angeles, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it Good talking to you, sir.

All right. Just ahead, more on the breaking news about the Trump campaign's threat to Omarosa's publisher. What more might the president do to try to silence his critics?

And juries in the Paul Manafort's trial just asked the judge multiple questions. What does it tell us about their deliberations and when there might be a verdict?


[18:22:50] ACOSTA: There's breaking news this hour in the Paul Manafort trial, the first big test for Robert Mueller's team. After hours of deliberations, jurors had some questions for the judge.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is outside the courthouse.

Jessica, the jury has questions, very interesting. What's the latest?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Four questions, in fact, Jim. They deliberated for those seven hours quite diligently, but right toward the end of the day just before 5:00, they submitted that note to the judge with four different questions, two of them related to specifics about Paul Manafort's tax filing, as well as his foreign bank accounts, another one related to clarification of the exhibit list. And the last one was about reasonable doubt.

This jury wanted to know more about the standard of reasonable doubt. Of course, that's the standard that the prosecution has to reach in order to convict. They have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The judge only answered that question about reasonable doubt, not the other three questions. And he said this, he said in order to convict, you don't have to get past all possible doubt, but you do have to get past the reasonable doubt.

That was something the defense had harped on in their closing. It does go to show that this case might not in fact be a slam dunk. There are a lot of charges here that this jury is considering, and the jury did say to the judge, Judge, we will be back tomorrow for more deliberation here -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And Jessica, what does all of this tell us about the deliberations and the potential verdict? Should we read between the lines here?

SCHNEIDER: You could read between the lines. First off, it tells us that the jury really is working painstakingly. They are going count by count for all 18 of these counts, they're going point by point, element by element here. They really seem to be dotting all their I's and crossing their T's. The real interesting one here was that question about reasonable doubt, you know, the defense said the prosecution has a very high bar here. They have to prove this entire case, all of these counts beyond a reasonable doubt.

So the jury wanted some clarification on that. And the defense team in general thought the fact that they asked four questions, including this reasonable doubt question, was a good sign for them. Take a listen.


KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT'S ATTORNEY: We just got some good news. The jury's been deliberating.

[18:25:01] They had some questions which the judge addressed, and they've asked to come back tomorrow to continue deliberations. So overall, a very good day for Mr. Manafort.


SCHNEIDER: And Paul Manafort's defense team was probably feeling so good about those four questions because most of those questions related to issues that the defense brought up throughout the case here and also pressed on their closing arguments. So again, it could be that this case isn't as much of a slam dunk as some think it is. There could be some doubt in the minds of those jurors but they will be back here tomorrow morning at 9:30 to continue what's already been seven hours of deliberations -- Jim.

ACOSTA: OK. CNN's Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Just ahead, an extraordinary rebuke of the president for revoking the security clearance of the former CIA director. Will Mr. Trump get the message from the commander of the bin Laden raid?

And is the Trump making a credible or empty threat to Omarosa's publisher? We'll have more on CNN's exclusive reporting.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR/CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Breaking news tonight, stinging new reaction to President Trump and his decision to strip former CIA director John Brennan of his security clearance.

[18:30:46] Let's talk about all of this with our correspondents and analysts.

And Susan Hennessey, one of our -- I want to talk to you about this first, this David Chalian -- and David Chalian, I want to talk to you about this, as well. This op-ed from William McRaven that was just put out in the "Washington Post," the admiral who oversaw the raid to kill Osama bin Laden telling the president it would be an honor to have him revoke his security clearance.

You come from this world. You know this world well. That is no small thing for somebody of Admiral McRaven's caliber to say something like that.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it is hard to convey the significance to people who don't know who Bill McRaven is. This is not a partisan; this is not a political person. This is not a person who writes op-eds sort of as a gimmick. This is a person of really incredible stature and integrity, commands unbelievable respect within the national security community.

And so it really does say something for somebody like this to be using these terms about the president. And I think that he's not necessarily even speaking to the president whenever he says, "I think it would be an honor for you to revoke my security clearance." I think he's talking to everybody else. And I think he really is sending a message that, whenever you speak up against this president and take this stand, it's not about politics. It's about defending the United States, because that has been what his nearly 40-year career really has been about.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And I think that's the point there, is the speaking up point. Because so much of the concern that people expressed was that the president, by doing what he did, what was announced yesterday in revoking the security clearance of Brennan and putting out this list of others who are in consideration, is to try to chill this notion of speaking up against the president.

And so, you know, Brennan coming out with his op-ed was one thing. But then this stern, unexpected from this sort of unimpeachable source in McRaven coming out is another -- not because it's going to change President Trump's mind at all, but because he's trying to set the notion here that it is critical that people still feel comfortable to speak out in our free and open society.

ACOSTA: And let me read a portion from what Admiral McRaven wrote in the "Washington Post." I think -- it says, "If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics" -- speaking to the president here -- "will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be."

Ron Brownstein, you've been in this town for so long. You've written on all of this for so long. It always -- it does surprise me, although we shouldn't be surprised of it, but it always surprises me to see this national security and intelligence establishment rising up against the president of the United States in what is really a profound way. It's kind of mind-boggling to see somebody of Admiral McRaven's caliber trash the president like this.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. But the way in which any of this requires any operational force, what we've learned in these last 20 months is that there is no way for these kinds of doubts to impose any kind of constraint on the president unless Congress is willing to do so.

And you know, look, I think we have learned that the president's inclination is going to be that he is going to shatter, push through every limit that exists on the use of presidential power: to threaten the rule of law, threaten the ability of other institutions to resist him, including in this sense, the institutions of the former -- you know, the former intelligence leaders of the country.

The problem is that the Congress has taken the posture, the Republican Congress has taken the posture that every time he breaks a window, they sweep up the glass.

I mean, just remember what Paul Ryan a few weeks ago was like, "Well, the president is just trolling. He doesn't really mean this." You know and in fact, once it happened, he was silent. Most Republicans in Congress have cheered it. The one who didn't, Bob Corker, described it as a banana republic type event but has not sent any indication that he's going to do anything. And he is not an observer sitting in a balcony somewhere. He is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Just put out one quick thing, Jim. You know, there is a risk. There is a gamble in all of this, in sending such a clear message to voters that they will not, in any way resist or perform oversight on the president. As David knows, in the CNN poll yesterday and in the Quinnipiac poll yesterday, basically 90 percent of voters who say they disapprove of President Trump said they intend to vote Democratic for Congress. That is at the high end of that kind of correlation that we've seen over the last 25 years.

[18:35:11] And I think it is a reaction to the kind of signal that Republican leaders send time after time at moments like this. When the president shatters a boundary, their first inclination is to sweep up the glass.

ACOSTA: And Abby Phillip, I mean, not only did the president's words matter, the press secretary's words matter. And July 23, press secretary Sarah Sanders was forecasting some of this, that this was going to happen. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Making baseless accusations of improper contact with Russia or being influenced by Russia against the president is extremely inappropriate; and the fact that people with security clearances are making these baseless charges provides inappropriate legitimacy to accusations with zero evidence.


ACOSTA: What do you make of that, Abby. I mean, she was essentially forecasting if you or someone with a security clearance, and you speak out against this president, we're coming after you.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Even though those things may not have anything to do with each other. It doesn't take a security clearance to read the newspaper and talk about the contacts that the president's associates have had with Russians. I mean, these two things do not have to be related at all.

But what's interesting to me also about this situation and the reason Sarah Sanders ended up being out there on the podium was that earlier in that week, the person who suggested this whole idea was a Republican senator, Rand Paul.

You know, Republicans are not just picking up the pieces from Donald Trump. They are helping him break the windows. They were on the Hill, according to Manu's reporting, and saying they think this is totally fine. There are not very many Republicans speaking out, in part because I think this is just par for the course right now. I think they feel like this is not a hill that they're willing to climb for this president, and they are not pushing back. It is more than just that they are dodging these questions. They're simply endorsing this move. And we should say that that's exactly what it is.

ACOSTA: And David Chalian, I wanted to get your take very quickly on what Brian Kilmeade said about Omarosa on "FOX and Friends" this week. There's a lot of speculation the president was simply trying to divert attention from Omarosa when he went after John Brennan's security clearance. And then all of a sudden, they said this on "FOX & Friends."


BRIAN KILMEADE, CO-HOST, FNC'S "FOX & FRIENDS": In order to sell a book, she's come out with a series of tapes. And in many ways seems to have outsmarted the president, who has taken the bait and gone out and tweeted directly after her.


ACOSTA: What do you make of that, David?

CHALIAN: I guess he agrees with Omarosa that the president has met his match, which is an odd thing to hear.

I'm looking forward to seeing the actual numbers about her book sales, because I've got to believe that President Trump helped those sales this week.

PHILLIP: Yes, I think that Brian Stelter pointed out that she started out at No. 5 on the bestseller list and went to No. 2 as soon as the president started speaking about it.

ACOSTA: It's almost a symbiotic relationship.

Let me ask you this, Ron Brownstein. David, you want to chime in. This is a very important issue that's near and dear to our hearts here at CNN.

More than 300 newspapers across the country banded together today in support of the free press. There are some of the headlines on screen right there. You know, we don't want to naval gaze too much here, but obviously, you know, our job is to hold this administration, every administration accountable.

But the president responded on a day such as this with this tweet: "The fake news media is the opposition party, is very bad for our great country, but we are winning."

Once again, Ron, I go back to, you know, we're not supposed to be shocked anymore, but on a day when the media is banding together, the press is banding together, the newspapers are banding together and saying that the press is not the enemy of the people, the president responds in that way.

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, the point of freedom of press is not only for people who own a press. It is really for every American to be able to speak their mind.

And you know, we kind of see not only the tweet, but the actual action, you know, at John Brennan, which is kind of aimed at a different way of threatening that freedom of speech.

I mean, the scary thing is that the nature of the Trump presidency is to widen every divide in American life. There's no doubt, no question. There are a lot of doubts growing in some quarters about the press and that we are kind of retreating. It's difficult for any institution to have equal credibility across the red/blue divide, not only in the press but really any institution in society.

But we have not had -- so that long predates Trump. The difference is we have not had a president who has viewed it as central to his political strategy to exacerbate those divides, in effect to encourage one section of America to view the other as an enemy.

ACOSTA: And David --

BROWNSTEIN: As I said, you know, in some ways he's running as a wartime president, as the president of red America against blue America and against any institution that he can portray as a threat, not only to him but to his voters. And so we are in for some very rocky roads and some very kind of high waves.

ACOSTA: And David, this is a bit of a controversy in the Democratic Party right now, with people calling for Nancy Pelosi not to run for speaker if Democrats take control of the House.

[18:40:00] I want to correct something I said earlier to congressman Ted Lieu. Jim Clyburn, one of Pelosi's deputies, said he was willing to run for the speaker if she stepped down. He's not calling for her to step down. I wanted to make that point. But still a rare statement from Jim Clyburn on one of his key deputies -- one of Nancy Pelosi's key deputies. What do you make of that?

CHALIAN: Jim Clyburn could have said to the "New York Times," "I stand with Nancy Pelosi" the way Ted Lieu said it to you, "and she has my full support." He didn't choose to say that.

What Jim Clyburn chose to say was if the opportunity presents itself, he's going to be there to seize it. That's a very different statement.

Yes, you're absolutely right to correct it. He has not called for her to step down. That would be far more dramatic. But just reading his quotes of what he has said so far about this indicates that he is open to the notion that a scenario may exist where she doesn't get 218 votes, doesn't have the full backing of the caucus, and perhaps he would step in. From one -- as you noted, one of her closest deputies, I'm sure those were not welcome words in Leader Pelosi's office.

ACOSTA: All right. Very good. I wanted to make sure we corrected that.

But also at the same time highlight what is happening across the country today. Newspapers across the country, news organizations across the country banding together in support of a free press and against these attacks on the news media. We're not the enemy of the people.

Thanks to all of you for speaking with us on all these subjects tonight. Thank you, guys.

Breaking news, next. A troubling new warning from the Pentagon about ISIS. Is President Trump on the same page as his military?

We'll remember Aretha Franklin with a personal friend who will share some of her remarkable candid photographs.


[18:46:32] JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: Top presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway and her husband are speaking out about their high profile divide over her boss.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here with details.

Tom, the Conways opened up to "The Washington Post" about their sharp differences over the president.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And in many ways, it sounds like irreconcilable differences, which you can hear from an awful lot of Republicans all across the country. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): As power couples go, Kellyanne Conway and her husband George have something of a short circuit, both are conservative but while she is the president's fiercest defender --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no den she will not go into.

FOREMAN: -- he is a sharp Trump critic.

Now, "The Washington Post" scored a rare behind the scenes look at their split level home life.

BEN TERRIS, POLITICS REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: He told me that, you know, she rolls her eyes at the tweets and, I mean, her life would be easier if he wasn't criticizing her boss.

FOREMAN: Criticizing?

George Conway routinely savages the business man-turned-politician. Just this week tweeting: What if a CEO routinely made false and misleading statements about himself, the company and results and publicly attacked business partners, employees and kowtow to a dangerous competitor?

When the president called Ohio Governor John Kasich unpopular, Conway posted a poll showing Buckeyes think much less of Trump. He has trolled the president over his clashes with political foes and the press over his fallen allies and his lies.

His wife told CNN's Dana Bash last spring --

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He writes a lot of things that are supportive and he writes a lot of things about corgis and Philadelphia Eagles and sports, too.

FOREMAN: But to the "Washington Post" she said: It is disrespectful. It's a violation of basic decency certainly if not marital vows. "The Post" says she quickly tried to have her words attributed to a person familiar with their relationship.

TERRIS: So, she said that and she kind of tried to weasel her way out of it. But, you know, I just printed it.

FOREMAN: Her husband, a lawyer, introduced her to Trump and now says he regrets it. He was once reportedly considered for an administration job but now seems glad it never happened. Despite all that, Kellyanne suggests questions about their marriage are sexist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would ask you that if you were a man and your wife --

CONWAY: No, you wouldn't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A thousand percent I would. CONWAY: No, no, no.

FOREMAN: And, George, he disagrees with his wife about the cause of any friction, too.

Her problem is with her boss, not me.


FOREMAN: Through all of this, there is a lot of things here in D.C. that are taken on background and off the record, that's routine, Jim. But I don't think I've ever heard of a circumstance where someone's commenting about their own marriage and then saying but don't attribute it to me, attribute it to somebody who knows about the relationship.

Well, who else really knows about the relationship except for the husband and wife?

ACOSTA: All right. CNN's Tom Foreman, thank you very much.

Just ahead, president Trump admits it was his anger over the Russia probe that led him to targeting John Brennan's security clearance.

Plus, intimate photos of Aretha Franklin, her photographer and friend will share them with us as we remember the "Queen of Soul".



[18:54:49] ACOSTA: Finally tonight, we remember Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, and so much more who died today at 76 from pancreatic cancer.

CNN's Don Lemon joins us along with Linda Solomon who was Franklin's photographer and personal friend.

[18:55:02] And, Linda, I want to start with you first. You were close friends with Aretha Franklin and you were also her photographer. We want to show some of these beautiful pictures that you shared with us. Let's start first with your favorite picture of Aretha Franklin.


ACOSTA: What's the story behind this picture?

SOLOMON: Well, this was taken at her home. Aretha was known for having greatest parties. And this was a costume party and she was Queen Nefertiti. And I just -- I was always honored to be able to capture her in those private moments.

And she wasn't just the Queen of Soul. She is the heart and soul of Detroit. And as a Detroiter, I am so very grateful that she continued to live here. She'd always give back to our community and was accessible to all of us. And she treated journalists with respect.

ACOSTA: Well, that is nice.

SOLOMON: She never asked for photo approval.


SOLOMON: She always trusted us. She let us do our job.

Unlike some contemporary stars that make you go through hoops. Aretha was not like that. And that's why she had the incredible longevity of the most outstanding career. And she was such a wonderful person.

LEMON: She was special.

And, Don, also you shared some special memories with Aretha Franklin like these pictures where she's wearing her iconic fur coat. And what moments do you have, and what have you been reflecting on today? I mean, it's a sad day, but it's kind of a wonderful day because we got to think back on somebody who is just an icon and an amazing performer in American music history.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, "CNN TONIGHT": Well, I'll never forget the moments right there. One, where she was posing. She loved to pose. She was a very regal woman.

What I've been really focusing on all day and what's made me feel better is to realize that there I am interviewing her -- what an honor that was -- was knowing that she was someone who came out of the struggle. She came out of the civil rights movement. And she had this career that lasted for decades. The longevity she had.

And she would tell you, you just have to keep going. And that the secret to success, obviously, is that you have to be talented, but it's also perseverance and showing up every day and showing up at your best. So to have someone like her come out of that struggle because when I was growing up, there were four things that were in every person of color. A picture of Jesus, a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and there's a picture of John F. Kennedy and then music from Aretha Franklin was always playing in the background.

So, I grew up listening to her morning, noon and night in the car, at picnics and cookouts, on vacation and she was the soundtrack to my childhood and my adult life as well.


And, Linda, you also shared with us these pictures of Aretha with her children. These are beautiful pictures. She was so very protective about her personal life. She was an icon but she was also a private woman. What was it like being close to her?

SOLOMON: Well, first and foremost, she was a devoted mother. And I will always admire that.

And there is a wonderful quote from Aretha. She once said, when I'm not on stage, I'm the lady next door. And she was just that.

I was in the neighborhood grocery store and happened to bump into her. And I said to the cashier, do you know Aretha Franklin is in the produce department. She looked at me and she said, she's always here.

LEMON: She's been all the time.

SOLOMON: And Aretha -- yes, she was that unassuming, that kind. And it was just such an honor to be able to get to know her through 40 years we've been friends.

LEMON: Oh my gosh.

SOLOMON: And to be able to see her with her children and the beautiful love that she shared.


SOLOMON: And the city of Detroit.

ACOSTA: And that is special.

And, Don Lemon, she was also just a fixture in American life in terms of the civil rights movement in what she brought to the music industry over the years. I'll never forget how she performed "My Country 'Tis of Thee" during the Obama inauguration during 2009.

Don Lemon, Linda Solomon, thank you so much for joining us and sharing those memories. Just really appreciate it.

SOLOMON: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Those beautiful pictures and memories from you, Don, we cherish them. Thank you so much.

And the news continues next on "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

First, we leave you with this memory of Aretha Franklin from the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015.