The following is a transcript of an interview with CIA deputy director and CBS News senior national security contributor Michael Morell and Samantha Vinograd, a former top counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security and CBS News contributor, that aired on Feb. 11, 2024.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re joined now by former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell. He’s also the CBS News senior national security contributor. And Samantha Vinograd, a former top counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security and she’s here as a CBS contributor as well. And we want to note, Sam served in the Obama White House on the National Security Council and although she has left government, she’s a senior adviser to the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware. Good to have both of you here.
MIKE MORELL: Good to be here.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mike, I want to start with you. The items that were in President Biden’s possession had markings TS/SCI classification, top level classification. The House Intelligence chair has said that Biden and Trump had basically the same level of documents inappropriately in their possession. Is that a fair comparison?
MORELL: It’s- it’s actually difficult to make a comparison for all sorts of reasons. I think what we can say is that President Trump had more documents than President Biden, although the differences are not huge. We can say that both of them had confidential secret and top secret information, we can say that both of them had what’s called restricted handling information, which requires special care, because it’s a higher sensitivity. I think we can say that- that both of them had what’s called formerly restricted data information, which is information about U.S. nuclear weapons, that information for President Biden was dated, quite dated–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Back to the 80s, I think.
MORELL: Back to the 1977, 1979. So, both of them had sensitive information.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And is it damaging? I mean, that sounds risky, but I mean, Sam, you have exposure to this. And people say, oh, there’s over classification these days.
SAM VINOGRAD: Sure, but let’s keep in mind, this is not happening in a vacuum. Our partners and our adversaries are watching what was in that special counsel report. And our partners who do share with us valuable intelligence that includes their sources and methods can take assurance in the fact that this President, unlike his predecessor, self-reported, having this information and advised his team to do exactly the same. Now our adversaries got very unique insights into some endemic and significant vulnerabilities in the executive branch’s processes for tracking and storing classified information. And that is why it is incredibly important in my opinion, that the President announced a new effort to review how classified information is tracked and archived to avoid this happening again.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Because it happened with Biden, Trump and Mike Pence. But you just heard, Mike, the president’s lawyer say, these were just personal mementos in terms of that handwritten letter in regard to Afghanistan. But what does that say? What does that signal to men and women who aren’t commander in chief but have to show up to work and would be held to account for having these kinds of documents in their possession?
MORELL: You know, I’m not going to pass judgment on- on Mr. Hur’s decision to prosecute or not prosecute, right, I don’t have that experience. What I- what I can say is that the senior officials in the government have a responsibility, greater responsibility than anybody else, to manage class- classify- classified information properly. Because if they don’t, it sends a signal to everybody else that maybe you don’t need to do that as well. So historically, senior officials who have mishandled classified information have been held accountable both by the Department of Justice and when the Department of Justice declines as they did in this case, they’ve been held accountable by- by their agencies at very senior levels.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which in this case, there isn’t any–
MORELL: There isn’t someone to do that, right?
MARGARET BRENNAN: There’s no one higher than the President.
MORELL: So I think–
VINOGRAD: He did say that he accepted responsibility and I think that the proof in the pudding here is going to be–
MARGARET BRENNAN: For not overseeing his staff.
VINOGRAD: Yes and I’ve been involved in transitions. Margaret, I’m not here to defend the president or not defend the president. What I’m here to say is that as a factual matter, the Vice President was not packing boxes. Now that said, the president does have a responsibility to ensure that this does not happen again and that is exactly why I think that he should announce a review of the executive order that currently governs the classification, storage and declassification of materials. I think that he should announce that he’s appointing a senior official to oversee the processes involved. And as the report details, there were significant shortages in the resources available to the Office of the Vice President to ensure that classified material was treated appropriately. And it is on the president now to show this country that he is taking steps to rectify that situation.
MORELL: There’s a- there’s an example that- that is close to the President. John Deutch, when he was the director of CIA, during his entire time as director was putting classified information on an unclassified laptop. That was connected to the internet putting that information at risk. When that was discovered, there was a referral to the Department of Justice. They declined prosecution, just as in this case, it came back to CIA for an administrative review. George Tenet held him accountable. He indefinitely took away his security clearance.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In order to send us in order to send a signal.
MORELL: In order to send a signal to the workforce, that everybody’s got to take the management of classified information seriously.
VINOGRAD: And I think the President does need to send that signal. I think it is difficult to compare John Deutch with a sitting president, but I agree with you that it is important to send a signal. As an employee at the White House, I had to sign a nondisclosure agreement, I had various ethical obligations and otherwise, and for the men and women at the National Security Council right now, they need to understand that their President values classified information as much as they do. And that’s why I do think he needs to be on record announcing steps to avoid this happening again.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Should he have apologized?
VINOGRAD: I think that he did acknowledge that he did ultimately hold the responsibility for there being a mishandling of information when he was vice president.
MORELL: You know, I’d say that he needs to go a little bit further. So I agree 100 percent, that we need a new policy for how- how this is done at the end of the administration’s. 100 percent. I think he needs to go a little bit further in the apology. I think he needs to say, I should not have had this material. I put national security at risk. I apologize to the American people for that. I apologize to the intelligence community, in particular to those CIA officers who put their lives at risk to collect some of it. There was CIA material in here and it’s not going to happen again and I’m going to make sure that by making changes. A more full throated apology.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I think it’s an important perspective on the merits of the issue itself, putting the politics aside. So I appreciate both of you sharing your experience with us. We’ll be back in a moment.