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Senate Passes Waiver for General Mattis; Inspector General to Examine Comey Decision. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 12, 2017 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:30]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go, top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let's take you inside the White House and show you some live pictures here, as we're watching and waiting for no longer a surprise event. It was a surprise event. I know, right?

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Jeff Toobin is laughing at me.

This is all for Vice President Joe Biden. Remember, we were watching the farewell address from the president earlier this week in Chicago. He referred to Joe Biden as the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware's favorite son.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know what? When you put it on CNN, even though our ratings aren't as high as they could be, it can't be a surprise if it's actually on CNN, right? I'm just -- that's my service.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Stand by that for that. Thank you for that.

But we do have breaking news. The Justice Department's internal watchdog, the inspector general, is launching this review into how the FBI and the Justice Department handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server.

Among the myriad allegations misconduct, you have the FBI director, James Comey's decision to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails just 11 days before the election. That's just a piece of it.

Pamela Brown will kick us off. She's our justice correspondent.

You have been reading these this whole thing. Tell me more about this investigation.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There are a number of allegations, Brooke, that the Justice Department's internal watchdog will be looking at in this probe that was just announced today. The big focus will be how the public was notified about the

investigation into Hillary Clinton's private server. One of the allegations is that the FBI director handled it improperly when he broke with precedent and came out with that press conference this past July and said the investigation was closed and that there was not evidence of wrongdoing to prosecute, but that Hillary Clinton was careless in her handling of classified information.

That broke with precedent, because typically if an investigation is concluded, you don't come out and talk about the person publicly who was under investigation. So, that will be looked at.

In addition, the letter that the director of the FBI sent right before the election notifying Congress that in essence the investigation into her private e-mail server would be reopened because of new information that came to light, the inspector general will be looking at the circumstances surrounding that, why that decision was made to release that letter so close to an election, which was a break from Department of Justice policy.

And at the time the attorney general warned the FBI director not to do it, but the FBI said at the time because it had promised Congress to notify, that it would notify them if there were any updates in that investigation.

Also, according to the statement released by the inspector general, he will be looking at whether the FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe should have recused himself from the Clinton investigation. His wife had been running for public office for the state Senate and it was revealed in the media that there were Clinton supporters who donated to her campaign.

Now, the FBI says that he became part of the investigation once she lost her Senate race and was no longer running for public office, but it's an allegation that the inspector general will look at, in addition to communications, Brooke, between John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman, and the Department of Justice's assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.

You may recall the WikiLeaks dump of John Podesta's e-mail where it came to light there were communications between the two men. His name is Peter Kadzik. He had been John Podesta's attorney. He was communicating with him right before the election saying there was a hearing about Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server and giving him a heads-up.

But people at the time said that was improper and a conflict of interest for there to be any communications between the two. And then also, Brooke, the inspector general will be looking at allegations that department and FBI and employees improperly disclosed nonpublic information.

Now, these allegations, Brooke, come from both sides of the aisles from lawmakers, Democratic and Republican lawmakers who have been calling on the inspector general to look into these allegations and whether the FBI and Department of Justice handled the Hillary Clinton investigation properly.

We should note the White House today said it had nothing to do with this probe that's been opened by the watchdog. We have reached out to the Clinton camp and no word. And also we're expecting, Brooke, any moment now the FBI to release a statement in response to this probe -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. We know you will get it, you will bring it on. Pamela, thank you so much.

It's a lot to take in, I realize, so good thing I have the A-team with me here, CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin, senior chief political correspondent Dana Bash, Gloria Borger, CNN's chief political analyst, And CNN senior law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes, who was also the former assistant director at the FBI.

[15:05:11]

BALDWIN: So, great to have all of you.

And, Dana Bash, listen, you have covered this all throughout. This was the reason why the Hillary Clinton camp feels they lost the election, what Comey did. It's like just when the chapter you thought was closed, boom, back open.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

Look, we should say that a lot of people inside the Hillary Clinton camp, people who were Hillary Clinton voters think that, others think that it's because she didn't have an actual economic message that appealed to the traditional Democrats and several other issues.

Regardless, this did not help. I think even Republicans would agree it did not help Hillary Clinton, all of these things coming out, particularly a couple of the many things that Pam just laid out that the inspector general is going to look into, the now I guess famous, infamous Comey decision to reopen the investigation right before the election, 11 days before the election, and then close it and say, never mind, we didn't find anything, not to mention his decision initially not to prosecute.

So all of those things certainly are going to be looked at by the inspector general. This is what the inspector general of any agency is supposed to do. When there are questions, there are allegations that things were not handled properly and there are calls, bipartisan calls for an investigation, that's why this independent watchdog from within an agency exists.

So, I think that we should all look at this and say this is a good thing, this is the way we want our government to operate. So many questions about how long it's going to take, obviously what they're going to find and whether it's going to be some not such great things for not just perhaps Jim Comey, who has so many years left while he's still supposed to be the FBI director, but maybe even the way the Clinton campaign operated, as Pam just said, perhaps allegations of improper discussions between John Podesta, the campaign chair, and somebody inside the Justice Department.

So there are lots of things to look at. What it does mean is that this chapter is going to stay open and it's certainly not going to make the soon-to-be president very happy, who clearly acts out every time he thinks somebody is questioning the legitimacy of his election.

BALDWIN: Jeff Toobin, you would echo what Dana said that this is precisely why we have an I.G., but does this actual I.G. have a job on January 21? Does this all transfer over?

TOOBIN: This is a very interesting question to which we don't know the answer.

Inspector gels are political appointees. The current occupant of that job in the Justice Department is a lawyer named Michael Horowitz. As a technical legal matter, his job ends on January 20. However, there is a tradition that some presidents allow inspector generals to stay on and complete.

One of the questions that Jeff Sessions will surely be asked now, even though he's completed his testimony, is, will he allow this investigation to continue? Will they appoint a new inspector general? Will they give this investigation to career employees within the inspector general's office whose jobs do continue?

I think this we all agree on this is something that this is perfect for what inspector generals are supposed to do, but who does this investigation? Does it continue in the new administration? All of that is unsettled, I think.

BALDWIN: Also, what about James Comey? If he's under investigation, points of recusal or not?

TOOBIN: The inspector general of the Justice Department has jurisdiction over the FBI, so there's nothing unusual about the FBI being investigated by the inspector general.

The question is -- other point I think people may not know is that inspector generals don't have any power, except to write reports. They can't prosecute anybody. They can't fire anybody.

BALDWIN: They pass it on.

TOOBIN: They pass it on to the authorities, right, who can fire people, who can prosecute. But they themselves can't do any of that.

BALDWIN: Tom Fuentes, just as a former FBI guy, your reaction to this? And is this about just really getting the FBI reputation, who James Comey was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats, depending on the day, about reputation getting back on track?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's true, Brooke, but one of the problems I see with this whole issue is not just will the inspector general still be in office next week on January 20, but the scope of this investigation, if they go into everything that's mentioned in the memo about what they're going to look at, will actually take longer than the FBI's actual investigation of the e-mail.

[15:10:00]

So you're talking about going back into the way they investigated it, what happened with that, Department of Justice, were their officials -- did they conduct wrongdoing, did Comey do the wrong thing when he made his statement on July 5 and then subsequent congressional interviews and additional letters to Congress?

So, there is so much to look at, it's actually bigger than the original case.

BALDWIN: Gloria, what do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Maybe I should ask our legal eagles here, but you have Jeff Sessions, if he is confirmed as attorney general, saying he wants to recuse himself on anything that has to do with Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

He said he had thought about it a lot during his confirmation hearing. And he said, I said some partisan things during the campaign and so I ought to remove myself from those matters.

In Jeff Toobin's scenario, if he's the attorney general, does the new attorney general then say, OK, I can't decide what happens to the I.G. or what happens to this investigation because it has to do with Hillary Clinton's e-mails?

I mean, you know you do end up having a problem.

TOOBIN: Gloria, I think you raise a really interesting issue which I frankly didn't even think of right away, because he did say at his hearing that he will recuse himself.

The traditional thing that is done when the attorney general recuses himself is that the deputy attorney general takes over. We won't have a deputy attorney general right away.

(CROSSTALK)

FUENTES: The inspector generals don't work for the attorney general. So, Attorney General Sessions will not have a position to tell the inspector general what they can or cannot investigate. They're actually an entity of Congress.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: OK. I'm listening to all of this, and all of this, this person recusing, this person saying no, and I'm also then wondering, I'm left wondering what about the investigation itself, right?

The crux of the whole issue is looking into the FBI and what Comey did, opening this investigation just before the presidential election, because that's worth looking into, yes?

TOOBIN: We all agree. BALDWIN: Yes, we all agree on that. Yes, we all agree on that.

BORGER: Yes. And you want to save the reputation of the FBI, which whether you agree with what Comey did or you didn't agree with what Comey did, it has now been placed in partisan waters.

And I think if you want to save the reputation of the agency as nonpartisan, this is exactly what needs to be done and let the chips fall where they may.

FUENTES: It's not just the reputation of the FBI. It's also the Department of Justice, because they have to approve the sensitive, special techniques used by the FBI.

So when they start talking to FBI investigators, they may hear that there was improper political influence by officials at the Department of Justice. This will be a whole additional layer to this investigation that the FBI was trying to conduct an investigation with one hand tied behind its back.

BALDWIN: All excellent, totally valid points.

We have to leave it, lots of questions.

Jeff Toobin and Tom Fuentes, Dana Bash and Gloria Borger, my true thanks to all of you.

We are still waiting for this ceremony here, this farewell, thank you ceremony at the White House here, live pictures where we will see, of course, the first family and this is all for Vice President Joe Biden getting a special send-off and a tribute momentarily.

Also ahead, the president-elect Donald Trump's pick for CIA director facing a tough day of questioning when it comes to his views on torture and Russia. Note it doesn't necessarily line up with what we heard from candidate Trump. More on that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:58]

BALDWIN: The U.S. Senate is about to vote on a crucial waiver for Donald Trump's choice of secretary of defense. Retired Marine General James Mattis will need that special wavier to serve, since he's only been off active duty for 3.5 years.

This law required that he would be out of uniform for at least seven. The Senate committee who questioned him just granted General Mattis that waiver, so now he needs the approval of the full Senate. That is under way. But here is part of his hearing from earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), SECRETARY OF DEFENSE NOMINEE: We have to deliver a very hard blow against ISIS in the Middle East, so that there's no sense of vulnerability or invincibility there. There got to be a military defeat of them there. But it must, as you point out, be a much broader approach. This requires an integrated strategy, so you don't squeeze them in one place and then they develop in another, and we really are right back to square one. We have got to have an integrated strategy on this.

And it's got to be one that goes after the recruiting and their fund- raising, as well as delivering a military blow against them in the Middle East, I would see us maintaining the strongest possible relationship with NATO.

SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Thank you.

And are you concerned about some of the statements that president- elect Trump has made with respect to our historic European allies and to NATO and how -- and have you had a chance to have discussions with him? And how confident are you that he recognizes what you have just said about the importance of those relationships?

MATTIS: Senator, I have had discussions with him on this issue. He has shown himself open, even to the point of asking more questions, going deeper into the issue about why I feel so strongly. And he understands where I stand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you plan to oppose women serving in these combat roles?

MATTIS: I have no plan to oppose women in any aspect of our military.

Because the U.S. military is devoted to be in the top in its game in a competition where second place is last place, we should not simply be turning to the military because it's a very capable military, because it's well led. It's now a national treasure. I'm the first to admit that.

[15:20:10]

But it doesn't mean we should be turning to the military to answer all our concerns in our relations with the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Barbara, a lot of that hearing was about Russia. What did General Mattis say specifically on Putin and how does that square with what we've heard president-elect Trump?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It's very interesting, Border Patrol

You saw General Mattis there say that he believes Donald Trump will listen to him and his views about all of this, but throughout the hearing, General Mattis was on a very different page than Donald Trump. He called Russia a principal threat. He said that Russia, Putin was

trying to break up the NATO alliance. He repeatedly expressed extreme caution about what Vladimir Putin and the Russians are up to around the world.

Have a little more listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTIS: I'm all for engagement, but we also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to. And there's a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and an increasing number of areas where we're going to have to confront Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: And confronting Russia means confronting Vladimir Putin. There is no other way around it. Vladimir Putin runs the place, runs the country, runs their military.

And Jim Mattis was not the only Trump nominee on Capitol Hill today sounding this concern. In another committee, Mike Pompeo, up to be CIA director, was expressing his concern, was very clear-eyed about what he thought Russia's involvement was in the cyber-hacking situation.

And today the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, is in New York meeting with Donald Trump, briefing him. And General Dunford, who will be his principal military adviser, has already said he is skeptical about Russia and then some, General Dunford calling Russia an existential threat, saying some of their behavior is alarming.

So it's really interesting. You are seeing this whole lineup of top advisers to Donald Trump with very different views. If he's trying to set up a team of rivals, if he's trying to set up a business model where your senior executives come to the table with all these differing opinions, the discussion may be good, but the question will be, in the event of an emergency, in the event of a contingency, do you want to really waste time sitting around the table arguing about it all?

BALDWIN: I will take that point to my next guests momentarily.

Barbara Starr, thank you.

But I can tell you that Trump's nominee for CIA director also shows he wasn't, to borrow her phrase, on the same page as Mr. Trump. Here is more from the confirmation hearing of Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: If you were ordered by the president to restart the CIA's use of enhanced interrogation techniques that fall outside of the Army Field Manual, would you comply? REP. MIKE POMPEO (R), KANSAS: Senator, absolutely not. Moreover, I

can't imagine that I would be asked that by the president-elect or then president.

But I'm very clear. I voted for the change that put the Army Field Manual in place as a member of Congress. I understand that law very, very quickly and am also deeply aware that any changes to that will come through Congress and the president.

FEINSTEIN: And regular order.

POMPEO: And regular order, yes, ma'am, absolutely, with respects to the outlines of what is in the army Field Manual.

There's no doubt in my mind about the limitation it places not only on the DOD, but on the Central Intelligence Agency, and I will always comply with the law.

It's pretty clear about what took place here, about Russian involvements in efforts to hack information and to have an impact on American democracy. I'm very clear-eyed about what that intelligence report says and have every expectation as we continue to develop the facts, I will relay those not only to the president, but the team around him and to you all, so that we all can have a robust discussion about to take on what is an enormous threat from cyber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right, with me now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, and CNN military analyst Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona.

I should pause and just tell you all we have been waiting for this final vote from the U.S. Senate on the Mattis waiver. And, in fact, it passed. Guys, tell me again in my ear, control room, 81 to what -- 81 to 17.

So, there you have it. You're supposed to have seven years in between active service wearing the uniform and having a post like secretary of defense. And so they were able to pass it because there was only three-and-a-half years in between.

So, now that that is finished, Secretary Cohen, if I may, I would like to begin with you here.

[15:25:01]

To Barbara Starr's note and the note of others, that when you listen to Pompeo and Mattis and others on whether it's torture or Iran or Russia or even the border wall, the nominees do not appear to be on the same page as the rhetoric we heard from Donald Trump on the trail. Does that concern you?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, I think it's being reversed in a way, because president-elect Trump was the one who got elected, and he picks individuals who he believes are competent and will give him good advice.

But, ultimately, it's the president's policy, not that of the CIA director, or not that of the secretary of defense or secretary of state. So either they will make their case to him, in which case, if he says no, they have a choice. They can, as Mr. Pompeo said, I will not follow that order and resign, or they can say, well, I disagree, Mr. President, but I will carry out your direction.

But it's president-elect Trump who gets to decide the policy, and not his Cabinet members. It's a good way to try to flesh out what these individuals think, but ultimately it's what the president-elect thinks and not them.

BALDWIN: Dana, what do you think?

BASH: I completely agree that obviously the buck stops with the commander in chief.

Having said that, the fact is that this is somebody who has never been not just in elected office, he's never been in a position where he's dealing with these issues ever. He's a successful businessman. That's the reason he got elected to deal for the most part with jobs issues, with trade issues.

And things like when is North Korea going to launch a missile or should we remain really active in NATO and then down and down the line, he just doesn't have experience on that. So my understanding is that is why he went to great lengths to appoint people like Secretary Cohen's good friend General Mattis, because he is well respected.

You mentioned the waiver vote that just happened in the United States Senate; 81 senators voted to change the law that Congress put in place to make sure a fundamental of democracy, civilian leadership of the Pentagon, they said, you know what, that shouldn't apply to this guy, because he is so good.

It's also, by the way, the reason Democrats did it, is because he's so good, and we want someone like that next to President Trump in these times of crisis or just making routine decisions about where to send men and women in the military.

So my understanding is that as much bravado as Donald Trump has, he understands that he wants to rely on people with this kind of experience, which is why he nominated the people he did in these national security jobs.

BALDWIN: Colonel Francona, I think also on the point that an overwhelming majority of senators said yes to General Mattis, this is someone who has spent his life, his career in uniform for this country, massive bipartisan support in Washington and beyond.

I'm sure you were listening to his confirmation hearings. What did you make of his responses?

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think he was very diplomatic. And I think he's being very pragmatic. And I think it's essential that we get somebody like that in the secretary of defense position. As the secretary has mentioned, as Dana has mentioned, there's been a lot of bravado, a lot of rhetoric, a lot of very disturbing talk coming out of the president-elect and his office.

And if you have got somebody like General Mattis in there that can ameliorate some of that rhetoric and get to him and have reality set in and explain what the situation is on the ground, and I think the general was right about the Russians.

And he used a very interesting word. He used the word confront the Russians. That's a little different than the rhetoric we've been hearing lately. So, I think we've got a strong position. And I think General Mattis can carry this off.

But I have to agree with everybody else that the president is the one that has to be convinced by these people he's appointing and that's why I think it is essential that we have strong leaders in these positions.

BALDWIN: Secretary Cohen, you have been in that seat. You know what it feels like. You have done the hours and hours of prep work. You have been confirmed and you served this country.

But when it comes to Russia specifically -- and we all were listening to president-elect Trump asked questions on Russia and finally said, yes, agreed that it was Russia who interfered, but it wasn't, as critics have pointed out, strong enough language, and especially strong enough from what we've heard from these nominees.

Does he need to take it a step further as president, his words on Putin and Russia?

COHEN: I think he does.

I agree completely with General Mattis and others that Russia must be seen as a potential adversary or enemy on certain issues. We need to find areas of cooperation, but, ultimately, President Putin has a very different agenda than ours.

And so he will have to be contested in various ways, economically, diplomatically, even militarily