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Donald Trump Supporting Manafort; Trump Trying To Stifle Free Speech; Trump Suggests Justice Official Bruce Ohr Will Lose Clearance Next; Senator Rand Paul Wants Russian Lawmakers Taken Off Sanctions List; Trump Cancels Military Parade, Blames D.C. City Officials. Aired 5-6pm ET

Aired August 17, 2018 - 17:00   ET


[17:00:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Supporting Manafort even with the jury still undecided, President Trump declares the case against Paul Manafort very sad and Manafort's lawyers say they really appreciate the support as the President once again crossed a line.

Bruce or dare, 15 former intelligence chiefs signed a letter slamming the President for revoking the security clearance of a former CIA director. But the President says he's up to the challenge suggesting he'll soon strip Justice Department official Bruce Ohr of his security clearance linking him to the Mueller probe.

Assailing Robert Mueller, President Trump directly attacked special counsel calling him very conflicted and telling him to go write his report as he ruling out an interview with Mueller? And passing the parade by, admitting it's too pricey, the President cancels his widely criticized plan for a fancy French-style military parade through the nation's capital. As the American Legion says the money will be better spent taking care of wounded veterans.

Wolf is off today. I'm Jim Acosta and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

ACOSTA: Breaking news, with the jury still undecided the lawyer, Paul Manafort's lawyer thanks President Trump for publicly supporting his former campaign chairman after the President called the fraud case against Manafort very sad. Meantime, two former intelligence chiefs add their names to a stunning open letter slamming the President for removing the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. That makes 15 former top intelligence leaders including seven CIA directors who blast the President for "an attempt to stifle free speech."

But President is now warning he'll soon revoke the clearance of a Justice Department official linked to the Mueller investigation. I will speak with Congressman Andre Carson of the Intelligence Committee and our correspondents and specialists there standing by for full coverage. And we begin with our breaking news tonight and CNN's Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, even as the President is sharply criticized by 15 former intelligence leaders, he's launching a new attack on Robert Mueller. Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we do know that Mueller has been on the President's mind, at least behind the scenes but today we heard that directly from the President himself. He answered reporters' questions first time on this topic in a few weeks as he was leaving the White House to go out on a fund raising swing.

Now, he said that special counsel is, in his words, highly conflicted. He also said he's getting a "terrific response" from stripping that security clearance of John Brennan. But, Jim, that ignores the letter from those 15 intelligence officials who said it was highly inappropriate and wrong.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump further closing the door tonight to the idea of sitting down for an interview with Robert Mueller.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Let him write his report. We did nothing. There's no collusion. But if he's doing an honest report he'd write it on the other side.

ZELENY: After saying for months he wants to testify, the President essentially daring Mueller the move without him. Leaving the White House for a fund raising trip to New York, the President talking for the first time in days about the Russia investigation, and mincing no words about the special counsel.

TRUMP: Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend. I could go into conflict after conflict. But sadly, Mr. Mueller is conflicted.

ZELENY: Airing all grievances over the Russia probe, the President is also defending his new actions to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan's security clearance. He denied suggestions he was trying to silence his critics.

TRUMP: There's no silence, if anything I'm giving up a bigger voice. Many people don't even know who he is and now he has a bigger voice and that's OK with me. Because I like taking on voices like that.

ZELENY: Speaking about the decision for the first time, the president insisted he was getting high praise for the move to retaliate on Brennan and review the security credentials of nine others.

TRUMP: I've gotten tremendous response from having done that because security clearances are very important to me, very, very important.

ZELENY: But that overlooked one key fact that some of the nation's most decorated intelligence officials serving in Republican and Democratic administrations admonish the President in a joint statement saying, "The president's action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials have nothing with who should and should not hold security clearances, and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech. Decisions on security clearances should be based on national security concerns and not political views."

The president said he is poised to strip more security clearances in the coming days. CNN learned that one of his next target is Bruce Ohr, a current Justice Department official.

TRUMP: I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect it'll be taking it away very quickly.

ZELENY: Ohr has been in the President's sights because of his association of Christopher Steel, the former British spy who compiled the dossier investigating Trump's ties to Russia. The Justice Department says Ohr is not involved with the special counsel's investigation.

[17:05:10] TRUMP: For him to be in the Justice Department and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace. That is disqualifying for Mueller.

ZELENY: Meanwhile, the President also keeping a close eye on the fraud trial of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but declining to say whether he would consider pardoning him if convicted.

TRUMP: He happens to be a very good person and I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort.


ZELENY: Now, we do know, Jim, that President has been keeping a close eye on that Manafort trial happening just across the river in Virginia, but he did say directly I don't want to talk about that right now when asked about a potential pardon. We know that President spending the weekend in Bedminster, it is a gold resort there, having some more time to think about the question. The jury still deliberating that and will continue that next week, Jim, so we'll see if the President has more time to think about it. Jim?

ACOSTA: All right. The president not ruling out a coordinate, also making a lot of dubious claims today. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

Let's turn to CNN Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, how extraordinary was it for these 15 former officials, they're there, are on screen there signing onto this letter? I mean, almost, you know, seems like every day, there's something unprecedented that happens in terms of the pushback from the intelligence community against this president.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, what this does it belies the President's that this all about partisan politics here, that these are former officials who have an agenda. Because when you look at that list of officials on the list, they served Republican and Democratic presidents, they have decades -- we did a count. Nearly 300 years of experience in national security.

And on the front lines, literally of many, many of the operations, counter terrorism operations, overseeing those through the years. So you cannot look at this group and say that this is a partisan group that has a bias against the president. So that is remarkable.

You can now add to the list someone who was a supporter of the president in the campaign. Jim Woolsey, former director of the CIA, he did not sign on to this letter because he say he wasn't reached in time, so he released his own statement about this.

He said the following. "It is my view that security clearances to be granted or rescinded based on objective, criteria that reflect whether an individual can be trusted to maintain classified information." Of course, implicit in the letter, Woolsey saying that they were not objective criteria that the president used.

Now, also highlighting this issue, just in the last few moments, we have the democratic ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who made this announcement on Twitter saying, "I will be introducing an amendment next week to block the President from punishing and intimidating his critics by arbitrarily revoking security clearances, stay tuned. That's from Senator Mark Warner there.

Of course, that that's it is, because the Democrats do not have a majority in the Senate will be. Can he get any Republican votes on board? I am told that he is seeking some Republican votes right now but it will be -- the chances of this are difficult.

ACOSTA: Right. And, Jim, what about this notion of the threat to strip former officials of their security clearance is an attack on the Russia probe, that there is a connection?

SCIUTTO: The two points to make there. One, the President has said himself, that it's the Russia probe that led him to revoke John Brennan's clearance and is raised that with some of the other officials that he has under target. Let's look at the officials that are on the list that Sarah Sanders announced from the White House.

Podium now having their clearances reviewed, John Brennan, he was director of the CIA. When the intelligence community assessment was compiled that said that Russia interfered in the election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. James Clapper, he was the director of National Intelligence when that happens. James Comey, of course, who the President already fired as FBI director, he was director of the FBI at that time. But others involved, as well. Andrew McCabe was in the FBI. Peter Strzok, he was part of that investigation. Sally Yates you'll remember, she was directly involved in informing the White House that Michael Flynn, the President then National Security adviser was compromised because at that point she knew he was under criminal investigation. Those events leading to him let go as well.

So, it's in the numbers there. It's on that list. One thing they have in common, many of them, most of them, really, is that they were involved in the Russia assessment.

ACOSTA: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana, a member of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman thank you for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.

Do you believe that the President is obstructing justice in the Russia investigation by threatening to revoke these security clearances? What do you make of that?

REP. ANDRE CARSON (R), INDIANA: I think the President is simply being a bully. Look, you have qualified folks, the most qualified and trusted group that I know who represent both military and civilian aspects of the intelligence apparatus. And I think for President Trump to do this is a form of bullying. It is outright bullying.

[17:10:00] And I think he's misrepresenting the presidency. I think that he doesn't understand, even the framers' intent of having dissent, having disagreements. Those disagreements are healthy for the preservation of a democracy.

But I think in a very real sense, if this was a situation where these individuals were divulging classified information, then we could talk seriously about revoking access to classified information or even arrest to that point. But you have qualified professionals who have served our country with distinction being threatened before the world.

ACOSTA: And how powerful is it do you think that these former intelligence and national security leaders from both parties rebuking the President in this way?

CARSON: I think it's critically important. I think that historically when you have had disagreements with the President, former and sitting intelligence agency heads, have been refrained from making these outright critiques. But I think in this instance it shows that people are deeply concerned about the direction of our country. They're concerned about the provocations from the President. They're concerned about this administration.

And I think when these Democrats and Republicans and even some of the folks who are apolitical, who are speaking out in a very real way. They are concerned about the national security. They're concerned about the growing threat that Russia is posing not only to our global security but to our electoral security, I think it says a lot.

ACOSTA: And President carries out his threat to revoke more security clearances, what impact will do you that will have on the intelligence community and national security for the country? If these officials not brought in from time to time say for example, and consult with administration officials, national security intelligence officials on threats to the United States?

CARSON: Well, I think it's very dangerous when you disrupt the kind of institutional and historical knowledge of these individuals' brain to the table. I also think for the President or the administration to kind of minimize or attempt to minimize these individuals by simply saying they're using the security clearances for monetary purposes. I think it's unfortunate.

I think that they bring a wealth of knowledge. They have a broad reference point as it relates to the public and private sector now that they're in the private sector, many of them. And I think to takeaway these clearances, does a disservice to our country. You have Americans who are deeply disillusioned with the political process. You have Americans who are anxious about the confident encroachment of foreign entities, state and non-state actors upon our electoral process.

I think to do this publicly, not only hurts morale within the intelligence community, but it also deepens and widens the gap of mistrust and distrust toward elected officials in our democracy.

ACOSTA: And let's turn to the Manafort trial. Is it appropriate for the president, we heard this earlier today as he was leaving the White House, to weigh in on the trial of his former campaign chairman and offer support and say things, like he's a very nice man and it's very sad what's happening to Paul Manafort? Do you think that's appropriate?

CARSON: Well, I think he's certainly entitled to his opinion. I think that the president wreaks of inappropriate behavior. I think that my push has been since the start of this administration is that the President demonstrates calmness. That he hides his hand a bit more.

It could be a blessing in many ways he doesn't hide his hand. He is pretty frank about his opinions, against Africans-Americans, against immigrants, against Muslims, which is something I challenged him on with the Congressional Black Caucus meet with me. But I'm deeply disappointed.

I would hope that he wouldn't continue to muddy the waters with not only Justice Department but with also those who are trying to bring justice to this matter and make sure the appropriate parties are indicted and convicted. But I think for him to weigh in on this I think it speaks to his inability to be presidential. And, in fact, to be objective which furthers darkens the cloud around him and his administration and even his campaign.

ACOSTA: And a critical question that came up today as the President was leaving, was whether he would pardon Paul Manafort. He says -- he said earlier today, I don't want to talk about that right now. What would you do if the President pardoned Paul Manafort and what could be done about that?

CARSON: It's difficult for me to speak on it at this point.

ACOSTA: Do you think that Democrats in Congress would move in some fashion towards some kind of legislation to sanction the President to try to bring some sort of impeachment proceedings forward in the House or that have to wait until after the midterms? What could be done at that point do you think?

CARSON: I think without questions, Democrats will be fighting amongst themselves as to who will introduce this piece of legislation. But the greater concern is that whether or not we'll win the House and I think with this blue wave, while it sounds great, we really hoping that people show up to the polls, Republicans and Independents and Libertarians as well, and do the right thing to change the face of Congress and vote Democrats into the majority. I think we'll see the change that people are waiting for.

[17:15:13] History's on our side but until we take charge and make sure that people are showing up to the polls and we give them a reason to show up to the polls, we won't see the kind of separate but equal branches of government the framers envision.

ACOSTA: OK. Congressman Andre Carson, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Carson: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Up next, breaking news even as the jury remains undecided, Paul Manafort's lawyers thanking President Trump for his public support after he calls the case very sad. Is that a clue he plans to pardon his former campaign chairman? And as the price tag soars, President Trump scrubs the plans for a fancy French-style military parade through Washington. Is he the only one not breathing a sigh of relief?


[15:20:12] ACOSTA: More breaking news now after the President praises Paul Manafort calling the trial very sad. Manafort's lawyers are thanking the President for his public support even as the jury remains undecided. CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider is outside the Federal Court House in Alexandria, Virginia.

Jessica, is this jury any closer to a decision? I guess that's the question tonight.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That is the question, Jim. You know, they're 14 hours into deliberations after two days. And it really is hard to tell exactly where they are in their process. They have been excused for the day. The judge told them to put this trial out of their mind over the weekend until they reconvene at 9:30 Monday morning.

You know, we really haven't heard much from the jury in this case. Yesterday they deliberated seven hours. We heard from them with that one note asking for questions. Today, we only heard from them once. It was around 3:00 p.m. telling the judge that they needed to be out by 5:00 p.m. because one of the jurors had an event tonight.

But through all of this, the defense team has seemed pleased about all of this. They've said multiple times today that they believe the longer this jury deliberates the better the chances are for client Paul Manafort. And, of course, also today they've also expressed their pleasure at this seeming support from the President, the fact that the president said Paul Manafort was a good man, that this whole trial process was just sad.

In fact, Kevin Downing referred to the comments twice today. That's Paul Manafort's lawyer. He said this earlier in the afternoon. He said we really appreciate the support of the President and then just a few minutes ago leaving the courthouse he reiterated the appreciation yet again and he put it this way. He said, "We were very happy to hear the President supporting Mr. Manafort."

So, Jim, the defense obviously pleased with these proceedings and in their view happy that the deliberations are taking so long.

ACOSTA: Yes. Not every day, Jessica, when the President of the United States offers a support to a criminal defendant, especially in a case of this magnitude. But what will we learn about what was said at these secret proceedings during the trial? Are we going to learn anything about that at some point?

SCHNEIDER: Well, turns out we heard today that we will learn some of what was secret. So, of course, throughout this trial, there are many bench conferences, that's when the defense team, the prosecutors go up. They talk to the judge and during that time they usually put that static noise machine on.

So the people who are in the courtroom can't hear the proceedings. Well, the judge said today he would release some of those transcripts from those proceedings after the verdict. But there are two things that we will not be getting information about.

First, the judge said any information that came out of the proceedings related to the broader Russia probe we will not be seeing. In fact, there was one time when the defense team asked Rick Gates how many times he'd been interviewed by the special counsel as it pertains to his role on the Trump campaign. The judge said we will not be getting the transcripts for that.

Also what we won't be getting is any of the jurors' identification or their names. So the judge in a very stark statement today said that he quite frankly is concerned about the safety of these jurors, and he put it in pointed terms. And he said that he, in fact, has received threats as a result of this trial, as a result of the high stakes in this trial, and the high profile nature of it.

So, Jim, he said he doesn't want to jeopardize the safety of the jurors and he will be keeping their identities and their names secret. Jim?

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

Coming Up, 15 ex-intelligence officials have now signed a letter slamming the President for revoking the security clearance of a former CIA director. They call it "an attempt to stifle free speech." And admitting it's too pricey, the president cancels it's widely criticize plan for a fancy French-style military parade in Washington.

[17:23:57] You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


ACOSTA: Breaking news, former leaders of US intelligence community are piling on President Trump's decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. Two more top officials have added their names to an open letter that president calling as move an attempt to stifle free speech. Let's get more analysis from our experts here.

And, guys, just to let you know in the last couple of minutes, this is just coming into CNN, a statement from 60 former CIA officials regarding the removal of security clearances. You just saw a few moments ago, that's 15 top intelligence officials. Now, we have a statement from 60 former CIA officials including our own contributor Phil Mudd.

And during this statement, they say that they're not necessarily signing on to the views expressed by the former CIA Director John Brennan but says here at the end of this, what our signatures do represent, however, is firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasons experts are allowed to share views. And this is just you have a long list here of former CIA officers who are saying this.

And, John Kirby, what do you make of this? This is a pretty unprecedented pushback from the intelligence community and say that the president of United States, what you're doing is wrong.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Yes. It's not unusual in this town for you to see group letters like this from intelligence officials. It is very unusual to see them from intelligence who don't like to be --\

ACOSTA: Staying in the background.

[17:30:00] KIRBY: They stay in the background and they're happy to do that. They know that's the value they bring to the nation. But, you know, with this latest one, now you even have that many more. And I think both letters, both statements really get to the heart of the issue, Jim, which is the national --

[17:30:00] JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They stay in the background and they're happy to do that. They know that's the value they bring to the nation. But, you know, with this latest one, now, you even have that many more. And I think both letters, both statements really get to the heart of the issue, Jim, which is the national security imperative here. It's not just about free speech, although it is. It is about the degree to which a current administration can pull from and learn from and get meaningful context from former officials who have clearances, who have experience that they can draw on.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: And Susan, you worked in the intelligence community. What do you make of this? I mean, it's not every day where you have all of this officials or former officials come out and put their names on something like this. SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: No. Look.

I agree with John. I think that this is unusual but I think what these individuals are doing is pushing back on this general trend to politicize national security decision making. And yes, D.C. is a political town, political place, do inform lots of this stuff but there's always, sort of, by day-to-day process of the military of the national security community that is about keeping Americans safe.

And those political differences just don't matter behind those closed doors, and I think that this is really another example of President Trump basically not getting that, not understanding that there actually is something higher than politics, higher than sort of individual loyalty. So, this is about more than just John Brennan's security clearance. This is about sort of standing for that larger principle and it is an important one. You know, not just symbolically but actually for the real security of the United States.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And it does seem, Jim, I think that it's falling on these very dramatic statements are falling on deaf ears at the White House. President Trump was out today, right, saying how the security clearances were to be revoked in short order. And so, if they think they're going to have impact with the president, that clearly doesn't seem to be happening and I'm curious to see how much sway they have with the American people because these are forceful and dramatic statements about fundamentals in our system and yet the politics are so broken at the moment that I'm not sure that this will break through politically, at least the president seems not at all interested in backing away from this politicization.

KIRBY: I would go so far to say he's not only, not deaf ears. He actually is probably welcoming this.


KIRBY: Because it just feeds up his base and I think it encourages him more to pick a fight. This gives him more foils.

ACOSTA: And Abby, in this open letter to President Trump, the language that's used here. We've never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool as was done in this case. Beyond that, this action is quite clearly a signal to other for and current officials as individual that who have cherished and help preserve the right of Americans' free speech even when that right has been used to criticize us. That signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable. These are strong and powerful words and the president was asked earlier and say he's trying to silence his critics. And he says, if anything, I'm amplifying them giving a lot of attention to John Brennan. But it's not only about silencing critics, it's about bullying critics, right?

PHILLIP: Yes. And also, his response to that question is really telling. He was basically, saying, I think this is a useful political tool for me to make me look strong against him. To make me look strong in a political sense and that's exactly why these officials are speaking out. There's a long tradition in this country of national security, of law enforcement, and of intelligence being bipartisan. If you look at the lists of officials, many of them have worked in Republican and Democratic administrations. But what this administration and what this president does is distill everything down to do you love or do you hate Trump?

And traditionally, that's not how things have worked in this country and that's, in some ways, what they're marking here by putting out these letters. They're saying, we shouldn't allow that to happen. We should allow national security to continue to be something that transcend party because it's more important than that. President Trump views this as a power struggle. He's thinks it's something that makes him look strong and makes Brennan look weak.

ACOSTA: And Susan, he's openly speculating about this little-known Justice Department official unless you traffic in a lot of right wing conspiracy theories, Bruce Ohr, Justice Department Attorney. He met with the Fusion GPS founders, he met with the Trump dossier, he was removed from deputy attorney general's office. At this point, if you consult with fact checkers all over about Bruce Ohr, they're not clear lines between Bruce Ohr and the dossier. Yet, the president claims that there are. What do you suspect is going on here with the president engaging in this kind of conspiracy theory spreading when he talks about Bruce Ohr publicly like this? Going out there and say, I might revoke his security clearance, but we don't have any clear sense of what he even did?

HENNESSEY: Right. It is clear to even understand exactly what the conspiracy theory is but look. This is part of a string of attacks against career civil servants that we've seen from the president over the past months and years. President Trump obviously needs a boogieman; he needs a bad guy inside the government in order to not be held accountable or responsible for what's going on. And you know, it was Pete Strzok last week and it's going to be Bruce Ohr this week. And we see those patterns of the president targeting someone, targeting them by name, effectively destroying their career -- and some cases, destroying their lives and then moving on to the next person.

And sort of the window between these various enemies that he's picked is getting narrower and narrower, I think, because he's proven that with his base, it is so effective to be able to hold somebody up. You know, that said, it's wrong. It violates a principle of sort of independent law enforcement. It's the wrong thing to do to people who served their country, served their country, you know, sitting officials in the Justice Department. You do have to ask where is Jeff Sessions? Jeff Sessions is the Attorney General of the United States. He is the head of the Justice Department, and his silence here, it does speak volumes.

[17:35:51] ACOSTA: All right. Everybody standby. We have much more to cover, including an unusual request from Senator, Republican Senator Rand Paul. Why is the senator asking President Trump to lift sanctions on certain Russian lawmakers? Plus, President Trump cancels a Veterans Day military parade after reports of the stunning price tag.


[17:40:42] ACOSTA: OK. Welcome back. Back with our panel and want to get some thoughts from David Chalian on some new poll numbers for CNN conducted by a polling outfit SSRS. David, the opinion of Russia, has it gone up or down among Americans since all of this Russian collusion investigation has begun?

CHALIAN: The number of Americans who -- that now see Russia as an enemy is skyrocketing. It's at 41 percent now -- there you see -- 33 percent of Americans see Russia as unfriendly to the U.S.; 18 percent friendly; five percent ally. That 41 percent, Jim, is a record high since we've been asking that question back to 1999. If you also look at Iran and North Korea. You also see that Americans are saying that those countries are enemies at record high levels.

And what we really see underneath the numbers, of course, this will not surprise you, I'm sure, partisanship is at play here. Democrats are driving those numbers. So, after a high-profile meeting with the North Korean leader and after a high-profile meeting in Helsinki with Putin, Democrats are now saying more and more that these are enemies that the president is meeting with; Republicans say the opposite. And in fact, we asked how's he doing in managing these relations with each one of the countries? Russia gets the lowest rating from Republicans but still 70 percent of Republicans approve of the way that he's handling the U.S. relationship with Russia.

ACOSTA: And Abby, what stands out for you? I mean, it is interesting what David was saying that so many Republicans would approve of the president's handling of Russia, but so many Republicans approve of how the president is handling his job as president of the United States. So, I guess it's not too much of an outlier there.

PHILLIP: That is very important, because it tells us what a lot of these numbers often tell us about President Trump which is that his party is following him on views on all of these things. That when he makes a statement about how they should view Russia or Iran or North Korea, they agree with him. They don't -- they have -- they will abandon, you know, some prior views on some of these issues and follow him. And that's really important for Republicans in particular because it means that if you are standing apart from President Trump, you're going to have a hard time. The party is with him on this, but it also tells us that we need to be watching what's happening in the middle that Democrats, of course, are driving the numbers in the other direction but we need to know what the middle is thinking and where they're standing on this. And it seems that it could be that maybe a little bit more of them are kind of skeptical of where Trump is and how that plays it will be important, maybe not this fall but as we go down the road.

ACOSTA: John Kirby, I wanted to ask you about Senator Rand Paul, speaking of Russia, after a trip to Moscow, he's now pushing President Trump to lift sanctions on members of the Russian legislature, so that they can travel to the United States. Some of them are obviously limited by these sanctions that are applied in recent years because of all of Russia's bad actions on the global stage. Is it appropriate for U.S. senator to be conducting almost his own foreign policy in this fashion and recommending sanctions be lifted after meeting with the Russians?

KIRBY: It's not completely out of the norm for members of Congress, particularly ones like Rand Paul with a seat on the center of Foreign Relations Committee. Obviously, he sort of in his wheelhouse making trips and coming back and making recommendations to the White House and to his colleagues. What is inappropriate and wrong in this case is asking for sanctions to be lifted on these two individuals. The first one (INAUDIBLE) was sanctioned for support of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea. The second one, consenting Russia, was sanctioned by this administration, this one. For his activities in supporting Russian interference in our election. So, it would be a huge slap in the face to the United States government and to the American people to lift the sanctions on these two guys and let them come to the states. You want to talk to them? You can talk them over the phone. You don't have to bring them here and lift the sanctions.

ACOSTA: They don't have to come here. All right. And Susan, what do you make of this request from Rand Paul? It is interesting, seeing Rand Paul over there advocating for something. He was a fierce critic of the president in the past during the campaign and so on. And here he is, sort of aligned with the president on sort of a go softer approach when it comes to Russia.

HENNESSEY: Yes. I think it really does raise questions about what in the world Senator Paul is thinking, right? This is an adversary nation that has carried out attacks -- continues to carry out attacks on four aspects of our democracy, and what we should be seeing response is a resolved unity, a show of strength and force, and instead you have a United States that is actively undermining our purported policy.

[17:45:01] ACOSTA: It will be interesting to get Rand Paul's take on this. Thanks all of you for that great stuff. Coming up, President Trump launches fresh attacks on the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. We will bring you the latest on that. But first, President Trump cancels his pet project. You've heard about it so many times, a military parade through downtown Washington. Sounds like it's off for now. Why is the president pointing fingers at local politicians?


[17:50:03] ACOSTA: New tonight after months of planning a Veterans Day military parade in the nation's capital, President Trump is pulling the plug. Our Brian Todd is on this story for us. Brian, the president was very hot on this idea, why is he blaming the local D.C. government here in Washington for the cancellation?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, he's basically accusing D.C. city officials of holding him up, giving him a cost estimate that he calls "ridiculously high." That setup a political brawl today between the president, the D.C. mayor's office, and even American veterans have weighed in.


TODD: Bastille Day in Paris last year, featuring guards on horseback, fighter jet zooming overhead. Banners and flags along the tree line boulevards. A parade that so enthralled President Trump, he wanted one of his own in Washington.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a lot of planes going over, we had a lot of military might. And it was a beautiful thing to see. They had representatives from different wars and different uniforms from different wars.

TODD: But tonight, the president vision of troops parading down D.C.'s streets has taken a wrong turn. Trump saying in a tweet, he cancelled it because of skyrocketing costs, saying "the local politicians who run Washington D.C. poorly know a windfall when they see it. Never let someone hold you up."

MURIEL BOWSER, D.C. MAYOR: Good evening, everybody.

TODD: D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser brushes back tweeting, "Yep, I'm the local politician who finally got through to the reality star in the White House with the realities. $21.6 million of the parades, events, demonstrations, in Trump America. Sad." That $21.6 million is the estimate just for the D.C. government's cost. CNN was told that the overall cost of the parade had swelled to $92 million. The American Legion, which represents two million American veterans weighed in.

JOSEPH PLENZLER, AMERICAN LEGION: At the core of our soul, we are all about taking care of America's veterans. And you know, we have young men and women who are still in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and other places around the world who come home injured and ill from their service overseas. And we believe that money is best spent taking care of them.

TODD: Defense Secretary James Mattis, who according to the latest congressional defense spending bill has sole discretion over what to spend for a parade said he wasn't aware of any $92 million estimate and insulted journalists who reported it.

JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Whoever wrote it, need to get better sources. I'll just leave it at that. And I don't know who wrote it, I haven't seen it. And but I guarantee you, there's been no cost estimate. Whoever told you that is probably smoking something that's legal in my state but not in most states, OK?

TODD: But CNN was told by an administration official that the $92 million was a planning estimate. Officials noting that Mattis hadn't yet been briefed on that estimate. The American Legion regrets that this has turned so political.

PLENZLER: You know, America does best when they treat Veterans Affairs as a nonpartisan issue, and that's been our history over the years. And so, I think, we do our best work taking care of veterans when and we approach it in a bipartisan way.


TODD: We've asked the White House and the D.C. mayor's office if despite all this political fallout, they would be open to working with each other to stage a military parade in Washington sometime in the future. The mayor's office was non-committal. President Trump says, maybe they can do it next year if the price goes way down. Mr. Trump meanwhile says, he's going to go to a separate parade at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, and that he'll to Paris this November for another military parade there, Jim?

ACOSTA: And Brian, what's disappoint that the Defense Secretary would slam the press like that when they were just asking legitimate questions. But if the president does ever get his parade, he still won't get part of what he wants, right? He wants the tanks, he wants the larger grade weapons on parade and that doesn't sound like it's feasible.

TODD: That's right, Jim. And the Pentagon and Congress have weighed in on that. Members of Congress, Pentagon planners saying that they do not want tanks, missile carriers, other very heavy machinery rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue. They say it's to avoid damage to the local infrastructure. But the mayor's office couldn't answer the question when I asked if those vehicles would actually damage the streets here or what's beneath them. Some of the (INAUDIBLE) that officials here simply just don't want a parade here to look like those events, which dictators like Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin staged in their capitals. Those heavy tanks going down the streets -- they don't want those images here.

[17:54:24] ACOSTA: It certainly would be a startling image of Washington, D.C. All right. Brian Todd, thank you very much. Coming up, breaking news, President Trump directly attacks Special Counsel Robert Mueller calling him conflicted and telling him to go write his report. Is he ruling out an interview with Mueller?


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. Clearance and security. President Trump is poised to punish another target of his Russia probe anger after yanking John Brennan's access to classified information. Mr. Trump is boasting about the move as intelligence veteran rally behind the former CIA chief.

Praising Paul Manafort. As jurors deliberate the fate of the former campaign Trump chairman, the president calls him a good man, fueling more speculation about a pardon. In a surprise push tonight, Manafort's lawyers is saying thanks.

Maligning Mueller. Instead of a Twitter tirade, Mr. Trump is slamming the special counsel on camera calling him conflicted and disqualified. What could that mean for a potential Trump-Mueller interview?

And Rand's Russian friends. The GOP senator says he plans to ask the president to lift sanctions on some Russian lawmakers. Why has Rand Paul become a vocal defender of the Trump White House and Putin's Kremlin?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today, I'm Jim Acosta and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[18:00:13] ACOSTA: We're following breaking news on President Trump --