Morning News Brief: John Brennan, Paul Manafort
NOEL KING, HOST:
President Trump revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan yesterday. And the White House says he's also reviewing the security clearances of nine other intelligence officials. Most of them are former officials.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And many of them, like Brennan, have been sharp critics of President Trump. This is Brennan on MSNBC reacting to the president's decision.
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JOHN BRENNAN: I've seen this type of behavior and actions on the part of foreign tyrants and despots and autocrats for many, many years during my CIA and mass security career. I never, ever thought that I would see it here in the United States.
GREENE: Now this move is the latest in a constellation of actions by President Trump that really leverage the powers of the presidency to buoy his political supporters and disparage his critics. Now for its part, the White House said former officials should not, quote, "use real or perceived access to sensitive information to validate political attacks."
KING: All right. NPR's Greg Myre covers national security. He's with me in the studio this morning. Good morning, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. So this is not unprecedented. Intelligence officials have had their clearances revoked before. But the difference is in the past, it's always been with cause, right?
MYRE: Yeah, exactly. I mean, a sort of famous case was back in 2003. A former national security adviser, Sandy Berger, went to a national archive building, smuggled out classified documents in his person. And so he had his clearance revoked. But again, very clearly for a cause.
And yesterday, President Trump cited Brennan's erratic behavior, but not the divulging of any secrets or violating any national security issues. Brennan's tweets are probably the thing that have gotten to the president as much as anything. He's tweeted 51 times since leaving his post as CIA director last year. Now for the president, that might be a slow week. But most of those tweets - very sharp personal attacks against the president. After the Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin, for example, Brennan said Trump's behavior was, to his mind, treasonous.
KING: Brennan is now a consultant and a TV commentator, so how does him losing his clearance affect his ability to do his current job?
MYRE: Probably not that much. But I think the larger principle here is a president punishing a critic and threatening to punish more, but not for any wrongdoing, but for things they've apparently said. And it creates this larger debate about people and institutions that have traditionally been seen as non-partisan being dragged into this big partisan debate we're having. You can certainly draw some parallels to the FBI and...
MYRE: ...And James Comey as well.
KING: Do you get the sense that this could shut down other former intelligence officials who have been critical of the president?
MYRE: I really don't think that's going to happen. They've been speaking out more and more, and I've had these kinds of conversations. A typical conversation would go, we should be speaking out. We know Russia. We don't like seeing our agency denigrated by the president. But we don't want to be seen as partisan. But these sort of distinctions and nuances they may be trying to make really get trampled, and it just becomes another battleground in the partisan battle.
KING: And the president is reportedly looking into the security clearances of other former intelligence officials as well, right?
MYRE: That's right. He listed nine other people yesterday - eight of them former officials, including another CIA director, Michael Hayden. So there may be more shoes to drop.
KING: NPR's Greg Myre. Thanks so much, Greg.
MYRE: Thank you, Noel.
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KING: All right. The case against Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, is now in the hands of a jury.
GREENE: That's right. We're waiting now to see what the jury does. Now we should remember Manafort is accused of tax and bank fraud charges. If - if he's convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
KING: NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following this trial all the way through. Good morning, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. So the jury never actually heard Paul Manafort speak. He decided not to put on a defense, but his lawyers say they have a good reason for that. What is it?
JOHNSON: Yeah. It's simple. Defense lawyers say the government bears the burden of proof in this case. And they say that heavy burden has not been met. So the defense didn't bother to put on any case their own. Not only did Paul Manafort not testify, they didn't put on any witnesses.
In closing arguments yesterday, the defense talked about Paul Manafort's history as a top political consultant to presidents from Gerald Ford to Donald Trump. And they said this tax and bank fraud stuff was complicated, so Manafort, along the way, consulted with bookkeepers and accountants. They said that's not something you would do if you were carrying out a fraud. Rather, you'd try to hide it.
They also said that Paul Manafort still had money in 2016, so he didn't need to lie and cheat banks to get more. And they claimed the special counsel team that's prosecuting Paul Manafort pored through documents years after the fact, trying to find places where the numbers didn't match, essentially trying to argue they were on a fishing expedition. Finally, as they've done since Day 1, the defense blamed Paul Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates.
KING: All right. So that was Manafort's defense team. How did prosecutors wrap things up?
JOHNSON: Prosecutors told the jury not to get distracted. They said, the defense wants you to believe this case is all about Rick Gates, but government lawyer Greg Andres said the star witness has actually been the documents - documents where Paul Manafort implicated himself.
The government showed an email where Manafort claimed ownership of one of those 31 foreign bank accounts we've heard so much about during this trial. And then the government displayed an email where they said Manafort was directing Gates to break the law, Manafort telling Gates explicitly, you be the quarterback here. Well, the prosecutor said, if Gates is the quarterback, Paul Manafort is the coach and the owner of that team.
And the government also said that Paul Manafort has been lying to hide money when he had it, and then lying to keep it when he was running short. The government invited the jurors to read specific pieces of evidence. And jurors, as I was watching them, were taking very careful notes and paying close attention to the government presentation.
KING: And after 12 days, this is now in the jury's hands. So what is that process going to look like? Is it going to be a long one?
JOHNSON: Jury deliberations are secret, so there's a lot we don't know for now. Here's what we do know. This jury - the six-man, six-woman jury - can deliberate as long or as little as they like. Remember, there are hundreds of emails and financial reports and charts in this case. The judge has told them to keep an open mind. But now's the time where they're going to go through all those 18 charges, review the evidence. No way to tell how long it will take for them to deliver a verdict, or whether there will be a verdict in this case yet.
KING: NPR's Carrie Johnson. Thanks so much, Carrie.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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GREENE: OK. We're going to learn now about something called living drugs. They really could be one of the most exciting advances in the war on cancer. They're made by genetically modifying patients' own immune system cells.
KING: NPR's health correspondent Rob Stein has been reporting on this specific case that involves this treatment. Good morning, Rob.
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: All right. So you've been following the treatment of a young man named Aaron Reid. He's from Mississippi. He has leukemia. And his leukemia just keeps coming back for years now.
KING: But with this treatment, with these so-called living drugs, the idea is they could stop that cycle. So I guess the big question is how? How do these living drugs work?
STEIN: Yeah. So the way they work is doctors - they take certain immune systems out of each patient's blood. They're called T cells. And they genetically modify them in the lab so they can recognize and attack specific targets on each patient's cancer. And then they infuse millions of these genetically modified living drug cells back into their body to go after their cancer.
KING: And how is it working in Aaron Reid's case?
STEIN: Yeah. So two of these drugs have already been approved and are already being used to treat patients with leukemia and lymphoma. But these drugs are not perfect. They're really expensive, and they can be dangerous in some cases. And the cancer often does come back. So scientists around the world are kind of rushing to create the next generation of these living drugs.
And Aaron is in a study at the NIH - it's the National Institutes of Health - to test one of these new experimental living drugs. This one is kind of a double-whammy living drug because it's been genetically modified to attack two targets on his cancer cells instead of just one. And I went out to the NIH on the day he was treated to watch as, first of all, technicians in the lab start to prepare his cells for his infusion. Let's listen to a little bit of that.
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STEIN: In a lab at the hospital, technicians pull open a huge metal tank and slide out Aaron's cells.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Patient - Reid, Aaron Michael - 7788320.
STEIN: Yeah. So after the technicians had carefully tested and checked his cells, and they literally counted them to make sure they had the right cells and the right numbers, they filled a huge syringe with 17 million of these cells.
STEIN: And they rushed them to his room.
KING: All right. So wow, 17 million. So his doctors are going to be looking for specific things - right? - to see if this is working. What are they looking for?
STEIN: Yeah. So what they're waiting for is once these cells are back into Aaron's body, they multiply until they have enough of themselves to actually go after and kind of swarm his cancer. And what they'll be looking for at first are actually signs that he's starting to feel pretty crummy. I mean, he kind of - his immune system kicks into high gear and at some point will kind of explode in this storm of activity where it goes after his cancer. And, you know, in some cases, this reaction, called the cytokine release syndrome or storm, can actually be life-threatening.
But it shows - it's a sign that his immune system is actually working and attacking his cancer. So it's actually a good sign. And most patients - they do get through that. And hopefully, in this case, it might actually finally get rid of Aaron's leukemia once and for all. That's the hope, anyway.
KING: Well, let me ask you something. You've been following Aaron Reid for a while. And this is a young man that's been dealing with leukemia for, as I understand it, 11 years. What is his - is he hopeful? Is he optimistic?
STEIN: Yeah. He's very optimistic.
STEIN: I mean, you know, he's been, really, through the ringer. He's gone through two rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. He even had a bone marrow transplant. And he even tried two other experimental treatments. But he's hopeful that, hopefully, you know, this last one - this third one might finally be the trick and could beat back his leukemia and get every single leukemia cell out of his body, eradicate it and finally get rid of it once and for all.
KING: Even if this does work for Aaron, it could still be a long time before this hits the market, right?
STEIN: Right. This is experimental, so there's still a long way to go to make sure that it works and to make sure it's safe.
KING: NPR's health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks so much.
STEIN: Oh, sure. Thank you.
KING: You can check out a full version of Rob's story later today on NPR One or online at npr.org.
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