Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Jones Wins in Alabama; Rosenstein to Testify at House Judiciary Committee. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired December 13, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:46]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow.

Top of the hour, we're following some major developments this morning on Capitol Hill. Take a look what's going on right now on your left. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is going to appear before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing that might have been routine, except for, well, except for a lot of things. Except for the Mueller investigation, that more and more Republicans are seeing as, well, not totally independent. So they'll pose some tough questions to him. On the right of your screen, at any moment, a news conference from top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer.

BERMAN: All right. What Schumer is going to do is suggest that the Senate push back the final vote on the Republican tax plan. Why? He wants to see the freshly elected -- or the next Democratic senator from the state of Alabama, Doug Jones. He wants him seated, which would reduce the Republican majority to one. So we're waiting on those two live events.

While we wait, let's go down to Alabama right now. Our Kaylee Hartung is there. This race is what is causing this news this morning, Kaylee.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, John and Poppy. The sense of urgency and the Republican effort to get that tax bill passed. Because as the Secretary of State of Alabama has explained it to me, it's going to take a couple of weeks to certify the results from this election. It will happen after Christmas, sometime between December 26th and January 3rd. So it is very likely that Doug Jones won't be sworn in until after the New Year.

Last night, with just that 1.5 percent margin of difference between the two candidates, you know, Roy Moore refused to concede the race. We still haven't heard such a concession from him today. He hasn't as much as called Doug Jones, as far as we know, at least not last night. But last night, Doug Jones had the confidence that the people of Alabama had spoken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG JONES (D), ALABAMA SENATOR-ELECT: Alabama has been at a crossroads. We have been at crossroads in the past. And unfortunately, we have usually taken the wrong fork. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, you took the right road!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARTUNG: Doug Jones was able to pull off this stunning upset with the help of a special coalition of voters and Alabama African-Americans who turned out in greater numbers than they did for Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012. Our numbers show 30 percent of the electorate here made up of the Black vote and also women in this state, educated white women, who turned out 57-42 percent in favor of Doug Jones. We'll be standing by with you guys to see what happens on Capitol Hill today. John, Poppy?

BERMAN: All right, Kaylee Hartung for us in Alabama.

Again, we're watching for Chuck Schumer, who will come out right now and say what he thinks the impact of this election should be. The White House, President Trump, after endorsing Roy Moore, campaigning for Roy Moore, is now trying to put some the distance between himself and Roy Moore.

Our Joe Johns is at the White House with that. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, one of the takeaways from last night, almost immediately, is that flawed candidates do not win, even when they have the backing of the president of the United States. The president acknowledging that, more or less, in a tweet this morning, without mentioning Roy Moore's name, the tweet says, "If last night's election proved anything, it proved we need to put up great" -- in capital letters, "Republican candidates to increase the razor thin margins in both the House and the Senate."

And that is something that did not happen because, as we know, Roy Moore had a lot of baggage that ended up apparently taking him down in Alabama. The president also tweeting this morning a number of other things, pointing out that he picked the right candidate, if you will, in the primary. The fact of the matter is the president picked losing candidates in both the primary and the general election, really raising questions about his choices, as well as the party's choices.

CNN's Jim Acosta, of course, reporting just last night that people at the White House were using words like "devastating," calling this an earthquake for the president.

[10:05:02] And also suggesting the president has egg on his face, because of his former adviser, Steve Bannon. Of course, Steve Bannon campaigned in Alabama for Roy Moore and encouraged the president to do as well. This, of course, is a problem for them in a number of different areas. They are saying, of course, this morning, that, look, he had no choice, had to back Roy Moore, because that's the guy who came out of the primary. Back to you, John.

HARLOW: All right, Joe Johns at the White House. Before you go, though, there has been quite a departure from the White House. Omarosa Manigault, who works in the White House. People may know her from "The Apprentice," as well, when Donald Trump was hosting that. She's gone, why?

JOHNS: It's not clear why she's gone, in fact. What we do know is Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, put out a statement today indicating that her resignation is effective January 20th. That will be exactly one year since Donald Trump was sworn in. She did do outreach to groups, including minority groups for the White House, through the office of liaison.

And now she's on her way out. One of the big questions, of course, is the extent to which this had anything to do with the election in Alabama last night or any other drama as April Ryan put it, just a little while ago, here on CNN. Omarosa Manigault Newman is now out. We also know that she got married recently. Her husband lives in the south, works in the south. He's a minister there and she'd been traveling every weekend or so to be with him, a difficult situation. So we've reached out to Omarosa and she has not responded to calls and e-mails so far. Back to you.

HARLOW: All right, Joe Johns at the White House. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. I want to bring in our panel right now. Joining us, Washington bureau chief for the "Chicago Sun-Times," Lynn Sweet, and Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator, senior columnist at "The Daily Beast."

And what we're looking at here on the right side of the screen - you guys maybe can't see it where you are. We're about to hear from the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. And what this is is the first political fallout that the Democrats would like to see or are pushing from the Alabama election last night, Lynn. Chuck Schumer is going to argue that the tax vote should be delayed until Doug Jones seated in the Senate. Now, it's not going to happen. My question to you, though, is why, Lynn, he's making this case.

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": OK, the Democrats hope to get more leverage in influencing the vote. Because once Doug Jones is seated, Republicans still have the majority, but it's only 51 votes. That makes any one Republican very important, because they could make demands that have to be met. It means that the Democrats are in a far better bargaining position. That's why the Republican senators have every incentive to try to make their deal, make peace with their House Republican counterparts and get this bill through, because sooner or later, Doug Jones is going to be seated.

Now, the Secretary of State of Alabama said it won't -- you know, will take a few weeks. So even in -- even if things go well, it gives the Republicans a few weeks to get their will done. There seems to be no political reason for them to delay, unless we hear from Schumer, unless he has some arrow in his quiver we don't know about.

HARLOW: Guys, stand by. Let's go to this big hearing on the Hill, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, about to testify before House Judiciary. The chairman, Mr. Goodlatte is making his opening remarks.

REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: -- to all citizens who expect a system of blind and equal justice. The Department of Justice investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own political prejudices. We are now beginning to better understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller's team.

First, we have FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, exchanging communications, showing extreme bias against President Trump. A fact that would be bad enough if it were not for the fact that these two individuals were employed as part of the Mueller dream team, investigating the very person for whom they were showing disdain. And calling it mere disdain is generous. According to the documents produced last night to this committee, Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page refer to the president as an utter idiot, a loathsome human and awful while continually praising Hillary Clinton and the Obamas. These text messages prove what we all suspected. High-ranking FBI officials involved in the Clinton investigation were personally invested in the outcome of the election and clearly let their strong, political opinions cloud their professional judgment. And this was only an initial disclosure containing heavy redactions.

[10:10:13] Second, former embattled FBI general counsel and current Mueller prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, expressed his awe of a former DOJ official for shunning the president and failing to faithfully execute the law. However, we are the ones now in awe that someone like Mr. Weismann remains on an investigative team that looks more and more partisan.

Third, we have learned that a top Mueller prosecutor, Jeannie Rhee, in addition to the other actions that would normally justify recusal, served as an attorney for the Clinton Foundation. Aren't Department of Justice attorneys advised to avoid even the appearance of impropriety? A former Clinton employee is now investigating President Trump. This seems to be the very definition of the appearance of impropriety.

Fourth, we have just recently learned that another top Department of Justice official, Bruce Ohr, has been reassigned because of his wife and his connections with the infamous dossier, and the company from whom the opposition research document originated. We hope to hear your assessment of the foregoing conflicts, whether individuals are being held accountable, and whether you still have confidence in the judgment of the special counsel you named and supervise.

Regarding the Clinton e-mail scandal, you, along with Attorney General Sessions have, to date, declined to appoint a second special counsel to investigate the improprieties that continue to surface, related to the handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation and other events surrounding the 2016 election. These are some of the important issues on which we will focus our energy and questions today. We want to understand your participation and the department's involvement in addressing both investigations.

Mr. Deputy Attorney General, the Department of Justice's reputation as an impartial arbitrator of justice has been called into question. This taint of politicization should concern all Americans who have pride in the fairness of our nation's justice system. While we continue to call on you to appoint a second special counsel, as you are aware, we have also opened our own joint investigation with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to review FBI and the Department of Justice's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

I want to thank you and Attorney General Sessions for recently committing to provide us relevant documents to enable robust congressional oversight of this matter. I implore you to continue to work with us on these and other important matters facing our nation. One of these matters involves a critical program for our national security. FISA section 702. This committee passed on an overwhelming, bipartisan basis, the USA Liberty Act, which maintains the integrity of the program, while protecting cherished civil liberties.

This overwhelming vote occurred despite the department's lobbying efforts against our bill. The USA Liberty Act was characterized as bad for the program, highly problematic, unworkable, and a proposal that would effectively dismantle section 702. However, the reality is that this committee's legislation struck a balance that promotes national security and civil liberties. I hope to hear from you why the Department of Justice felt it necessary to oppose a bill that would reauthorize 702 and instill confidence in the American people that their privacy and civil liberties are respected by a government whose duty it is to protect them.

The Department of Justice must reacquire the trust of the American people. I know there are thousands of Department of Justice employees and line agents in the department, in the bureau of -- Federal Bureau of Investigation, that are dedicated individuals, that are dedicated to upholding the rule of law and protecting the American people. And I hope that we can come to a conclusion about those people who have not met that standard in this hearing today. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Attorney General, for appearing today, I now yield to the gentlemen from New York, the ranking member of the committee, Mr. Nadler, for his comments.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Before I begin my statements. First, let me wholly endorse the comments of the chairman with reference to section 702 and to the legislation that we reported out of this committee. And second, I want to acknowledge a letter the chairman and I received last night from the Democratic women of this committee. Our colleagues have asked that we convene a hearing regarding the serious and credible allegations of sexual misconduct leveled against Mr. Trump by at least 19 women. Without objection, I ask that this letter will be made a part of the record.

[10:15:04] GOODLATTE: Objection, it will be made a part of the record.

NADLER: And let me be clear, I unequivocally endorse this letter. We should convene this hearing as soon as possible. This is an opportunity for us to lead and to show the country that this kind of behavior is unacceptable at any level of government.

Mr. Chairman, let me start by saying, welcome to the House Judiciary Committee, Mr. Rosenstein. For the better part of a year, my colleagues and I have implored this committee to conduct real oversight of the Department of Justice. On January 24th, 2017, we wrote to Chairman Goodlatte, insisting that the committee hold hearings on President Trump's conflicts of interest, at home and abroad. Citing to experts across the political spectrum, we showed that quote, "The administration's attempt to address its ongoing conflicts of interest are so far wholly inadequate." Close quote.

Six weeks later, Attorney General Sessions was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. We have not held a single hearing on the question of conflicts of interest. On March 8th, we wrote again to the chairman, encouraging him to call hearings on, quote, "Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. Election. Again, no such hearings were ever held.

In fact, this committee, which during the Obama administration held half a dozen hearings around operation fast and furious, received testimony from FBI Director Comey three times in 13 months, and detailed staff and resources to a Benghazi investigation that cost the public almost $8 million, this committee, from inauguration day until four weeks ago, was largely silent in terms of oversight. We haven't lifted a finger on election security.

Attorney General Sessions told us on November 14th that he has done nothing to secure the next election from threats from at home and abroad. We have not once discussed the president's abuse of the pardon power. While the hurricane bore down on Houston, President Trump sidelined the office of the pardon attorney to pardon a serial human rights abuser who bragged about running a concentration camp in Arizona.

And we have not held a single hearing on allegations of obstruction of justice at the White House. Not for lack of evidence, but because of the chairman's words, quote, "There is a special counsel in place examining the issue," unquote, and quote, "several other congressional committees are looking into the matter, and the committee," quote, "does not have the time to conduct this critical oversight." I ask my colleagues to keep those excuses in mind.

Now with the year coming to a close, with the leadership of the Department of Justice finally before us, what do my Republican colleagues want to discuss? Hillary Clinton's e-mails. Let me repeat that. With all of these unresolved issues left on our docket, a week before we adjourn for the calendar year, the majority's highest oversight priority is Hillary Clinton's e-mails and a few related text messages. As we saw in our recent hearings with the Department of Justice and the FBI, my Republican colleagues seem singularly focused on their call for a second special counsel, and failing that, on the need to investigate the investigators themselves -- ourselves.

The White House has now joined the call by House Republicans for a new special counsel to investigate the FBI. The president's private lawyers have done the same. I understand the instinct to want to change the subject after the Flynn and Manafort indictments, but this request is grossly misguided for a number of reasons.

First, it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the special counsel regulations work. Some criminal investigations pose a conflict of interest to the Department of Justice. The Russia investigation is such a case because of the attorney general's ongoing recusal and because department leadership insisted in the removal of Director Comey among other reasons. In cases like these, the attorney general may use a special counsel to manage the investigation outside the ordinary chain of command.

But the key here is the criminal investigation. That's what special counsel does. The department cannot simply assign a special counsel to look at things that bother the White House. There has to be enough evidence to have predicated a criminal investigation in the first place. Then and only then, if the facts warrant, can a special counsel be assigned to the case.

So far, there has been no credible factual or legal claim that anybody at the Department of Justice violated any law by deciding not to bring charges against Hillary Clinton or by attempting to meet with Fusion GPS. In other words, there is no investigation to which the department could even assign a new special counsel.

Second, the list of grievances raised by the majority for review by a new special counsel also seems wildly off the mark. For example, there is nothing unlawful about Director Comey's sitting down to draft an early statement about the Clinton investigation nor would it have been unethical to outline his conclusions before the investigation was over, if the clear weight of the evidence pointed in one direction nor is there anything wrong with FBI agents expressing their private political views via private text message, as Peter Strzok and Lisa Page appear to have done in the 375 text messages we received last night. In fact, the department regulations expressly permit that sort of private communication. I have reviewed those text messages and I am left with two thoughts.

[10:20:12] First, Peter Strzok did not say anything about Donald Trump that the majority of Americans were not also thinking at the same time. And second, in a testament to his integrity and situational awareness, when the office of the inspector general made Mr. Mueller aware of these exchanges, he immediately removed Mr. Strzok from his team. To the extent that we are now engaged with oversight of political bias at the FBI, this committee should examine evidence of a coordinated effort by some agents involved in the Clinton investigation to change the course of a campaign in favor of President Trump by leaking sensitive information to the public and by threatening to leak additional information about new e-mails after the investigation was going closed.

On Monday, ranking member Cummings and I sent a letter to the department asking for additional materials related these leaks as well as to the claims that these efforts may have been coordinated with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and other senior figures in the campaign.

Third, the president's cooperative investigation of the investigation is at best while be danger to a Democratic institutions. On the one hand, the president's old lock her up cheer seems quaint after a couple of guilty pleas by Trump associates. On the other, has former attorney general, Michael Mukasey, no fan of Hillary Clinton has said, the president's continued threats to prosecute his political opponents is, quote, "something we don't do here." If the president were to carry out his threat, quote, again from Attorney General Mukasey, it would be like banana republic. Finally and most important, this investigation into the investigation cannot credibly be a priority for this committee at this time. I understand the instinct to want to give cover to the president. I am fearful that the majority's effort to turn the tables on the special counsel will get louder and more frantic as the walls continue to close in around the president. But this committee has a job to do.

President Trump has engaged in a persistent and dangerous effort to discredit both the free press and the Department of Justice. These are the agencies and institutions under our jurisdiction. Every minute that our majority wastes uncovering for President Trump is a minute lost on finding a solution for the Dreamers or curbing a vicious spike in hate crimes or preventing dangerous individuals from purchasing firearms or stopping the president from further damaging the constitutional order. I hope my colleagues will use today's hearings as an opportunity to find their way back to the true work of the House Judiciary Committee. I thank the chairman and I yield back the balance of my time.

GOODLATTE: We welcome our distinguished witness. If you would please rise, I'll begin by swearing you in.

Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? Thank you.

Let the record show that the witness answered in the affirmative. Mr. Rod Rosenstein was sworn in as the 37th deputy attorney general of the United States on April 26th, 2017, by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Mr. Rosenstein has had a distinguished career in public service. He began his legal career in the public integrity section of the Department of Justice's criminal division and later served as counsel to the deputy attorney general and principled deputy assistant attorney general for the tax division. Until his appointment by President Trump, Mr. Rosenstein served for 12 years as the United States attorney for the district of Maryland. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from the Wharton School and a J.D. from the -- from Harvard Law School.

General Rosenstein, your written statement will be entered into the record in its entirety, and we ask that you summarize your testimony in five minutes. Welcome. We're pleased to have you here.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Chairman Goodlatte, ranking member Nadler, members of the committee, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to testify as part of your oversight of the Department of Justice. I appreciate your support and concern for the Department of Justice. I know several of you are alumni of the department. Two, in fact, served alongside me are as United States attorneys. And I'm very grateful for the opportunity to with you today.

As deputy attorney general, my job is to help the attorney general to manage our department's components, including seven main justice litigating divisions, 94 U.S. Attorney's Offices, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the United States Marshal Service, the Office of Justice Programs, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Office of the Inspector General, and many others. Our department includes over 115,000 employees. And tens of thousands of contractors, stationed in every state and territory, and in many foreign nations.

[10:25:13] We prevent terrorism and violent crime, illegal drug distribution, fraud, corruption, child abuse, civil right violations, and countless other threats to the American people. We enforce tax laws, anti-trust laws, and environmental laws. We represent the United States and the Supreme Court, the Courts of Appeal, and the District Courts, and in state and territorial courts. We protect federal judges, manage federal prisons, review parole applications, oversee the bankruptcy system. We manage -- we assist tribal governments and we adjudicate immigration cases. We provide legal advice to the president and to every federal agency. We implement grant programs and support state and local law enforcement. We combat waste, fraud, and other misconduct involving employees and contractors. We resolve foreign claims and represent our government in international law enforcement forums. We collect, analyze, and disseminate law enforcement data. And we perform countless other important functions for the American people.

The Department of Justice employees are united by a shared understanding that our mission is to pursue justice, protect public safety, preserve government property, defend civil rights, and promote the rule of law. The mission attracted me to law enforcement, but the people who carry out that mission are what I treasure most about my job. With very few exceptions, they are honorable, principled, and trustworthy.

America's federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are more professional today than ever. Rigorous scrutiny by Internal Affairs Offices and external oversight agencies has resulted in increased accountability and higher standards. When wrongdoing occurs, we are more likely to discover it, and we remedy it. That is critical to building and maintaining public confidence.

Over the past eight months, I've spoken with thousands of department employees around the country. I remind them that justice is not only our name, justice is our mission. Justice requires a fair and impartial process. And that's why we have a special responsibility to follow ethical and professional standards.

In 1941, Attorney General Robert Jackson said that the citizens' safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, seeks truth and not victims, serves the law, and not factional purposes, and approaches the task with humility. Under the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and an experienced team appointed by President Trump, the Department of Justice is working tirelessly to protect American citizens and to uphold the rule of law.

And today, I look forward to discussing some of our department's important work. Following the U.S. Attorney's manual and the examples set by past Department of Justice officials. We always seek to accommodate congressional oversight requests, while protecting the integrity of our investigations, preserving the department's independence, and safeguarding sensitive information. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to your questions.

GOODLATTE: Thank you, Mr. Rosenstein. I'll start by recognizing myself. Last week, Director Wray indicated that the normal procedures were not followed in the investigation of former Secretary Clinton's e-mail server. He said it was not normal protocol to have witnesses sit in the room during the interview of the target of an investigation. If the inspector general determines that normal protocol was not followed or that the investigation was closed or otherwise tainted for political purposes. Would that be a justification in your mind to reopen the investigation?

ROSENSTEIN: Mr. Chairman, we are certainly anticipating the outcome of that inspector general investigation. As you know, that's been ongoing for some time. I'm hopeful it will be concluded within the next couple of months. And when we get those results, we'll take appropriate action. I don't know exactly what the findings are going to be, but it's always appropriate for us to review any findings of impropriety or misconduct and take appropriate action.

GOODLATTE: When you announced your decision to terminate the employment of FBI director Comey, in that decision, you announced some practices that I took it to mean you thought were inappropriate action on the part of the Former FBI director.