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Interview With Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes; New Travel Ban; Trump Creates Firestorm Over Wiretapping Claims. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired March 6, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Sean Spicer not doing the regular on-camera briefing, and instead doing it off-camera.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right.
BASH: But -- and maybe more importantly, the fact that the president finally puts out and signs the revised travel ban, and they allowed no cameras inside. There is only one photo taken by the White House.
You know, it just -- it's -- you know, looking at this kind of objectively, you would think that this was something that the president would want to get a lot of publicity on, because it is something he says is critical to his agenda. And he is actually getting praise from Republicans for the way that it was revised.
BASH: What do you make of it?
I mean, this is something that was -- they have been working on it for the last four or five weeks or so. It was hastily done in the first week of his presidency. Of course, it was blocked with legal challenges there, but they did outreach and they signed this again.
You can see the look on eye of the president. He likes signing executive orders. He likes having people into the Oval Office. Well, he signed it alone today, because I'm told he simply didn't want to be faced with explaining these -- the accusations he made against President Obama here.
So, I think it is -- you know, no question, the White House is trying desperately to get back on message this week, on focus this week, on the health care bill, on this travel ban, but there is still this giant cloud hanging over this West Wing. And that is caused by the president himself sending out those messages on Twitter.
BASH: And I'm sure you have heard the same. I have heard from people who are familiar with the president's thinking and his behavior that the fact that he left on Friday night, left his senior staff behind, didn't have anybody minding him early in the morning or minding him in Florida kind of left him to his own devices, literally, his Twitter device.
Jeff, thank you so much for your reporting. Appreciate that.
Now on this subject, I want to go straight to Pamela Brown, our Justice Department correspondent, with news regarding James Comey -- Pam.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We are learning more, Dana, about the FBI director's reaction to Donald Trump's tweet over the weekend alleging that the past president wiretapped his phone.
Our source says he was incredulous about this allegation, the wiretapping allegation. The source says there was a level of simple disbelief when he saw what Donald Trump had tweeted. And the big concern, I'm told, was that this allegation would make the FBI look bad.
And that was what in part prompted FBI Director James Comey to have staff at the FBI reach out to staff at the Department of Justice asking for DOJ to knock down the allegation. The source says that Comey felt that institutionally he had to push back on this because of the magnitude of the allegations that he knew not to be true.
Over the weekend, senior-level officials within the FBI reached out to these career personnel at the Department of Justice to try and clear up these reports that Obama wiretapped the phone of Donald Trump. And a U.S. official telling CNN that part of the discussion was for DOJ to publicly knock down the allegations, which, so far, as we know, Dana, that hasn't happened.
And we are told that Director Comey was aware of these discussions and that he was frustrated and he still is frustrated that that request for DOJ to knock down the story went unanswered over the weekend and still right now, at 3:00 on Monday afternoon, East Coast time, I should say.
And this gives you just an insight into what's been going on behind the scenes. The source I spoke with said that the FBI director is still trying to figure out the appropriate mechanism to formally come out and say the allegations are not true. It could be that he eventually does come out and say that it is not true. We will have to wait and see.
And it all begs the question, is he concerned at all how the president is going to react to this? And what I'm told by a person familiar with the matter is that, A, he has no plans to resign as of now, that he knows that the possibility exists that there could be a confrontation and that he could be fired by the president, but that is not something that he worries about.
And we should mention that the FBI and the Department of Justice decline to comment -- Dana.
BASH: Fascinating. Great reporting, Pam.
And just the fact that the frustration that James Comey felt that you are reporting about, just not only with the president himself and the allegations he made, but also that the Justice Department, which, of course, is run by Republicans, it's the Trump Justice Department, didn't answer.
So James Comey clearly wanted to get that information out and make it public, because they weren't answering at the Justice Department. So fascinating -- Pam, thank you so much.
And I want to unpack all this right now with a panel.
Joining me now, the author of "Pistols to Press: Lessons on Communication From an FBI Agent and Spokesman," Jeff Lanza, who is now retired from the FBI, and our own Jeff Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.
Jeff Lanza, you just heard Pamela's reporting. What do you make of Comey's reaction?
JEFF LANZA, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, I think it was an appropriate reaction, because there is really only two ways to put a wiretap on someone's phone here in the United States. And that would be through a criminal investigation, where you have probable cause and it's approved by a federal court.
The second way would through a FISA court, in other words, an intelligence investigation, and then you would have some sort of indication that someone is operating on behalf of a foreign power or if a U.S. citizen is involved in treason or possibly planning terrorism.
Outside of that, in either one of those cases, it would be the FBI that would be installing those wiretaps. And Comey has come out strongly and appropriately, I think, and said, hey, we didn't do it. He doesn't want people to get the wrong idea.
BASH: Jeff, just what's going through your head when you hear all of this, the president making an allegation, the FBI director being livid over the weekend when he saw it because he said it's just not true, him trying to get the Justice Department to deny that it is true, not being able to do that, so he goes public?
Is your head spinning or is this kind of business as usual in the Trump years?
LANZA: Absolutely not business as usual. This is head-spinning stuff. It's crazy that you would have this kind of communication and to put DOJ right in the middle of this communication between Director Comey on one side and the president on the other side.
It's going to be interesting to see how exactly they respond. But on his part, I think he did the right thing. He doesn't want the public getting the wrong idea that the FBI was there installing wiretaps maybe without the proper jurisdiction or cause.
BASH: OK. We have a double Jeff here.
Jeff Toobin, point blank, do you think this is real at all? Is there any even kernel of truth about this allegation about wiretapping or is it just a pure political distraction?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Or is it just a paranoid fantasy? That's another possibility.
I don't think there is anything real here. There is a very well- established procedure, as Jeff pointed out, for how we get wiretaps in this country. And both of those procedures involve the Justice Department going to a federal court, either a FISA court or a federal district court, and getting authorization.
So the idea that President Obama sought this out, when there is no evidence for that, it just strikes me as, you know, just something that didn't happen. And what makes it even weirder now is that people are saying, well, it should be investigated anyway because some people are saying it.
I mean, that's not how the law is supposed to work. You are supposed to have some basis for something before you conduct an investigation. And there's no basis for this, as far as I can tell.
BASH: "Some people are saying," a familiar term from the Trump campaign.
Jeff Toobin, I want to stick with you in terms of travel ban. Iraq is no longer included, current green card and visa holders of all of these country, the six remaining countries, no longer included. There are exceptions for religious minorities or Syrian refugees.
Do you think that this is -- clearly, it's more palatable to Republicans who were upset about the first one. But more importantly, do you think that this will hold up in court?
TOOBIN: I think it has a much better chance of holding up in court. It's obviously the work of serious lawyers.
They are aware of the criticisms from the district court in Seattle and the Ninth Circuit. And they crafted it in a way to try to satisfy those concerns. The overarching program remains that President Trump during the campaign said, I want to ban Muslims. It's still up on his Web site.
So the argument that this is just a pretext for a Muslim ban is still there. But that is a much tougher argument for any plaintiffs to make at this point, because, at least in this executive order, the administration has spelled out that we picked these six countries because we just can't trust the governmental structures there to identify people who would be dangerous to the United States.
That, as opposed to any sort of a religious reason, that's going to make it easier to defend in court.
BASH: Jeff Lanza, your reaction? LANZA: Well, I agree totally with what Jeff said on that particular
issue. And I think right now there is this major distraction going on in terms of this FBI supposed investigation into the Russian connection, and then, of course, into the claim of the wiretaps, which again to me is just -- it's unprecedented in my 20-year history with the FBI.
I have never seen anything like that or any type of acrimonious relationships like this between DOJ, the White House and the FBI.
TOOBIN: If I could just add one thing, it's not totally unprecedented.
Remember, right before the end of the campaign, James Comey over the objections of the Justice Department went public, not in the form of a leak, but made a statement, extremely damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. He did it twice.
So this sort of conflict in a highly political setting is not completely unprecedented.
BASH: Jeff Lanza, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you both for your insights. Appreciate it.
And we're going to talk about more on this new ban and what it entails with our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, who is over at the State Department.
Michelle, first of all, when does this take effect?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Ten days from now. So, there is a little bit of buffer there.
And today plenty of times that raised questions among reporters. If this was so urgent initially that the first ban had to be rushed out, why is it now less urgent? Why is there less of a risk? And we did finally get an answer from the White House spokesman today, saying that, well, the element of surprise was taken away after the first one, so there wasn't really the same kind of urgency there for this one.
BASH: Michelle, do you think that -- I mean, it sort of looked as though just the theatrics of it, with the secretary of state, with the attorney general, with Homeland Security all there making statements together, that was obviously intended to show, if not to say in the text of this executive order, it's different this time around.
KOSINSKI: Yes, absolutely.
BASH: Do you get the sense from your sources that they are comfortable with the new one, unlike the last one?
KOSINSKI: It's hard to say, but we know there was input that went into it.
It's kind of like, if they want to be on board with this and they are part of the administration, they are going to really have to be on board with this. But now with the new language and certain things taken out, they do feel like this at least works for them.
And I think that that word that we always hear in Washington, the optics hugely noticeable today. Remember, the first travel ban was rolled out in the Pentagons Hall of Heroes, with President Trump signing it and the secretary of defense by his side.
This time around, it was if to say, OK we have not only talked to the agencies that have to implement this, the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the attorney general was there, too. But they are on board, they're rolling this out themselves.
And then you have President Trump signing it in private. There was just a photo that was put out of that. So, yes, they clearly want to say that there is unity and input and that there are people involved in this one, much different than the rushed original version.
BASH: And much of his national security team wasn't even in place yet at the first time that he signed it.
Michelle Kosinski, it's great to see you. Thank you so much.
And just ahead, former Obama communications director Jen Psaki joins me live to react to the current president accusing her former boss of wiretapping him.
Plus, from birth certificates to crowd sizes to JFK's killer, why Trump continues to embrace conspiracy theories.
Also, President Trump said he considers North Korea the greatest threat to America right now and Kim Jong-un just launched even more missiles. How will the U.S. respond? That's ahead.
BASH: Lawmakers in both parties are challenging President Trump to prove his latest unfounded allegation about his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
Many believe the president is trying to deflect issues currently dogging his administration.
One of those members is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, who sits on the House Intel Committee. And if you look at that tweet there, he even mocked the president with this tweet, saying: "I know this will end up being sticky, but, yes, I did the tapping, maplenotwire."
The congressman joins me now.
Congressman, first of all, that's a pretty elaborate tweet. And it did the trick. It got attention. It certainly got out attention, but...
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, it is a New England thing, Dana.
BASH: Yes, I get it. I get it.
BASH: But, if true, or if there is any kernel of truth to this, since you are on the Intelligence Committee, you are a member of Congress, likely, you would not choose sarcasm.
Does that mean that you really think that there is no chance that there is any credibility to this allegation?
HIMES: Well, I think that there is no chance that there's any credibility to the allegation that President Obama wiretapped Donald Trump.
The president of the United States doesn't have the power to wiretap anybody. The only way wiretaps happen in this country is if a federal judge, either in a criminal court or in the FISA court -- that is, the closed court where do national security matters -- gives the FBI a warrant to set up those taps.
So, the odd thing about President Trump's -- well, one of the many odds things about President Trump's allegations is that if there is anything here, for example, if there was some sort of wiretap, some sort of listening in on conversations, chances are, it was targeting Russians.
And so therefore if conversations were picked up in Trump Tower, the big question, which all these investigations are centering on, which is whether there was communication between the Trump Organization and the Russians, that sort of points us in one direction.
Look, otherwise, it is just an unhinged president tweeting insanity early in the morning.
BASH: But, Congressman, I just want to follow on one thing that you said. You said it definitely wasn't the president, meaning President Obama, who ordered the wiretap.
Let's just assume that is fact. You are not ruling out the notion of the FISA court for the FBI that wiretapping going on inside Trump Tower through official channels during the Obama administration?
HIMES: There's three ways there could be a -- at least three ways, but the three ways that matter here in which there could be a wiretap on Trump Tower would be if law enforcement believed that there was probable cause that there was a crime being committed by someone in Trump Tower. You might have wiretap.
If our intelligence community believed that there was some activity that involved a foreign power or foreign agents, there could be a FISA wiretap. And that, of course, would require not the president of the United States to say, hey, let's wiretap Donald Trump. It would require the law enforcement to appear before a federal judge, demonstrate probable cause and get permission for a wiretap.
BASH: So, Congressman, let's turn to the issue that I don't think the president wants to talk about, which is the allegations or questions or investigation -- your committee, the Intelligence Committee, is looking into it, as well as the Senate -- into whether there was any communication or even as far as collusion between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials.
Former director of the national intelligence agencies, the former DNI, James Clapper, said yesterday that he didn't see any evidence of that when he was still in his position. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government.
QUESTION: At some...
CLAPPER: But at the time, we had no evidence of such collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Congressman, you are on the Intelligence Committee. Have you seen any evidence of collusion?
HIMES: Well, I think, as you know, Dana, the investigation into the overall Russian hack, which we know happened -- we know now that it happened because later on in the election process the Russians decided they were going to try to help Donald -- that investigation has just begun.
And I was pretty critical of Chairman burr and Chairman Nunes, the chairman of the two Intelligence Committees, for going out last week and saying what they think the conclusion may be. So, I'm not going to go there.
I'm going to tell you, though, that these investigations have just begun. We have just begun the process of getting documents, of getting transcripts. And what we have is, we have a series of questions, the big one, of course, being, was there any communication about the hack between the Trump Organization and the Russians or was there collusion?
And we just don't know. But we have a lot of suspicious activity. Now we have learned that there are somewhere between three and six Trump associates who during the campaign had contact with the Russians and at least two of them subsequently lied about it, Michael Flynn, of course, and our attorney general, Jeff Sessions.
They misrepresented the nature of those contacts. One of them got fired because of that. The other one has to recuse himself from all activity.
The other thing that's intriguing is that, if this were completely made up, if there was absolutely no chance that there was any sort of collusion with Paul Manafort or discussions with Stephen Miller or anybody else, you would think the White House would say, hey, we need to bring this a close. This is a massive distraction. Bring in the investigators by the truckload. Let's depose everybody. Let's get all the documents. Let's move beyond this and get this done.
Instead, we have misrepresentations, we have lying about what the nature of the contacts were. We have foot-dragging. We have tweets that are designed to sort of take your eye off the ball. And that is not, of course, the -- these are not the acts of a party that knows that they are innocent.
BASH: Congressman, we are out of time. I just have to ask you.
You said that you have -- you and the Intelligence Committee, you have begun to get documents and transcripts. Have you gotten the transcripts of the conversations between those Trump officials and Russian officials that you just discussed?
HIMES: Dana, I can't discuss the specifics of what we have and we don't have. This stuff is all very highly classified.
The important point is that we will get those documents. We will hopefully get testimony from people like Director Comey and others. But the key thing to remember is that we are in very early days and nobody should be prejudging the nature of the conclusion that these investigations might yield.
BASH: Congressman Himes, thank you so much.
Can't hurt a girl for trying. Appreciate it.
BASH: Thank you.
And up next: President Trump's evidence-free claims of wiretapping are just the latest in a series of conspiracy theories he has given voice to, from birtherism to millions of illegal votes. My next guest says the president is normalizing paranoia.
BASH: The White House is doubling down on President Trump's baseless accusation against former President Obama.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer says there is -- quote -- "no question" that the Obama administration was behind some type of surveillance of Trump's campaign.
The president accuses his predecessor of illegally wiretapping Trump Tower during the campaign and says he wants Congress to investigate. Again, that claim has been unproven.
This is just the latest of many conspiracy theories we have heard from the president and, of course, former candidate.
Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also need to keep the ballot box safe from illegal voting. We are going to protect the integrity of the ballot box, and we are going to defend the votes of the American citizen.
TRUMP: But we had a massive field of people. You saw that, packed. I get up this morning, I turn on one of the networks, and they show an empty field.