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Trump "Looking Forward" to Testifying in Russia Probe; "Breitbart" Calls Trump "Amnesty Don" after DACA Comments; Oprah on Potential Run: "I Don't Have the DNA for It"; GOP Leaders Attack Alleged FBI "Secret Society". Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 25, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You just can't walk back from that. You have to remain silent in the face of those negotiations so that you can set the terms as best you're able to.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I wonder, Alexis, if anyone can walk back from it couldn't it be President Trump. At least politically he's messaging what we heard from the White House. I want to be transparent. Absolutely I want to do this under oath and if his legal team says hold your horses, we're going to need to put constraints on this, I want a lot of people to say, of course, his legal team is going to put constraints on this and maybe not hold Donald Trump accountable for what he said.

ALEXIS SIMENDINGER, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE HILL: I think that's right. Most of America would only be too happy to blame lawyers for anything. In this particular case, and the politics of it, the president's messaging is I have done nothing wrong, I want to cooperate, I'm being transparent. The White House is making it clear how many people have cooperated, 20 from with the White House realm and the campaign. And the president also is very aware that the polling suggests that this is one of the most divisive political issues out there. That his base, Republicans overwhelmingly think this investigation is going nowhere, it not that important. Democrats overwhelmingly feel the other way. The president feels like it is a win-win as president to say I want to cooperate.

KEILAR: Steve, the thing we heard over and over from the president, sometimes he says it seems like dozens of times in a few minutes, there has been no collusion, you know. He stresses this over and over. But then he said something pretty interesting, essentially yesterday, he said that he didn't need Russia's help to win. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): How do you define collusion? Maggie asked this earlier, but --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): You're going to define it for me, OK. I can tell you there is no collusion. I couldn't have cared less about Russians having to do with my campaign. The fact is you people won't say this, but I'll say it, I was a much better candidate than her. You always say she was a bad candidate. You never say I was a good candidate. I was one of the greatest candidates. Nobody else would have beaten the Clinton machine, as crooked as it was. But I was a great candidate. Some day you're going to say that.


KEILAR: It is interesting, I mean, I take -- I wonder what you think, his saying I couldn't have cared less about Russians having to do with my campaign, that he's saying I couldn't have cared less that that's what they wanted. I didn't need the assistance, I was a good candidate.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, the thing that strikes me when I hear comments like that coming out of our president is how similar they are to guys like Vladimir Putin and other autocrats around the world who basically have an art form that goes something like, OK, I'm accused of X and so I'm just going to turn around and say not X. That's absolutely false. I'm going to lie bigger, and then it usually works. So that to me is a really concerning thing. I appreciate the focus that everybody is -- has been having recently on the legal proceedings and, you know what is going to testify and under what conditions and all that sort of thing from a counterintelligence perspective, it can be frustrating because I don't want to lose the forest through the trees. If you cast aside, even some of the most controversial things, whether or not the FBI lost a bunch of e-mails, or whether or not the Steele dossier is factual or not, you have so much information whether or not whether it is Donald Trump Jr Meeting with Russians to get dirt on Hillary, whether it is Jared Kushner looking for some sort of weird back channel to the Russians, all roads lead back to Russia. From a counterintelligence perspective, that's what's concerning. Legally we'll have to see what happens with regard to conspiracy or collusion or whatever. But there is still so much that goes back to Moscow, and that's what worries me, Brianna.

KEILAR: And when he's saying this, you know, I could have cared less about it, do you -- do you think that he is dismissing the seriousness of what Russia did in the election by using these kinds of words?

HALL: Absolutely. I think he's throwing whatever he has to out there to basically say, no, and just say it louder and bigger and perhaps stomp his feet as well. So people will take it more seriously. This president has a history of sort of, you know, spinning the truth and playing things not just for his own political goals, but also to throw up, you know, smoke screens which I think is a little bit what is going on here as well.

KEILAR: Alexis, the reports are that the White House staff didn't know about the president's impromptu press conference. They didn't know this was going to happen.

SIMENDINGER: Well, the president himself enjoys the idea that he can have an audience with reporters. He's actually attracted to the idea as a risk-free opportunity for him to dominate the news cycle, which he did immediately in the evening before he left for Switzerland. And it is not -- he was in the White House chief of staff's office when he was doing it. It was definitely a surprise. And the president stood in the doorway and had a little mini press conference, this is the kind of thing he loves to do, and it -- to him, it is an opportunity to inject his thinking very personal, which is what we heard from him, very personal, and I would also argue a little bit of what we -- what imagine his defense is, part of his defense is it is not obstruction if you're defending yourself and also I don't remember everything.

[11:35:06] KEILAR: Alexis, thank you so much.

Michael Zeldin, thank you.

Steve Hall, we appreciate you as well.

Coming up, the conservative backlash to President Trump's new comments on DREAMers. "Breitbart" labeling the president Amnesty Don after he says he's open to a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers after several years. We'll have that next.


KEILAR: President Trump for the first time saying that he'll support a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers. The president expressed confidence that a bipartisan agreement on immigration is going to happen, but if a deal is not reached, Trump added that he may be willing to extend the march deadline that is protecting DREAMers right now. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER (voice-over): Citizenship for DREAMers?

TRUMP (voice-over): We're going to -- we're going to morph into it. It is going to happen at some point in the future.


TRUMP: Over a period of 10 to 12 years, somebody does a great job, they worked hard. It gives incentive to do a great job.


[11:40:12] KEILAR: And "Breitbart News" and some on the right are none too pleased about this. Here's the headline on "Breitbart": "Immigration, shock, Amnesty Don suggests citizenship for illegal aliens."

CNN's Phil Mattingly is live on capitol hill.

Phil, what are the president's comments yesterday on the wall and on citizenship for DREAMers do to the negotiations that we're seeing under way in the Senate?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at least one group is extremely enthusiastic about them. Senators have been filing into Senator Susan Collin's office. This is the bipartisan group that started meeting in earnest during the shutdown, trying to figure out a path forward. That group has become a key component of the DACA negotiations. Whether or not on the policy side or just in the idea that there is a group in the center that will help push whatever is agreed upon forward, this group is taking what the president said last night as a great sign that things may be coming together. Here's why. For Democrats' purposes, citizenship for the DREAMer population is a red line. No question about that. You can talk to Senators about that, you can talk to aides as well. And the idea of trying to move away from some of the more hardline immigration elements is considered a positive because as you know this has got to be a bipartisan issue.

I think the question right now is twofold, first and foremost, one Senate Democratic aide told me last night, we feel a little like Lucy and the football with this, going back and forth a couple of times over the last couple of weeks, we're not totally sure what he means, and the devil is in the details here what the president wants in return, how money is authorized or appropriated, all those things are extremely important. But if you take what these Senators are saying right now, very positive, thinking that this might be the start of an opportunity to actually get something done on this issue.

KEILAR: All right, Phil Mattingly, as you see -- we see Senators going into these negotiations behind you. It is really interesting, things happening there on the Hill.

Phil, thank you so much.

I want to discuss now with Ron Bonjean, the former chief of staff for the Senate Republican Conference, and Scott Mulhauser, former deputy campaign chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden.

OK, Ron, so when you hear the president say that, what was your reaction to him just, even -- so early on in negotiations, kind of giving that up?

RON BONJEAN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, SENATE REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE: Well, look, this is clearly impromptu. But it is not necessarily -- I wasn't really surprised because the president is a dealmaker. He's coming out with an immigration framework on this Monday. And you think that might be a signal of what could be in there. He also wants to talk about strong border security and ending chain migration and the visa lottery. Was it a little bit of a surprise, yes? And then no, because we're used to the surprises that come out from the White House.

KEILAR: But why, couldn't he just, like, pull right back on this, and this might not even be something ultimately that -- it is just -- it has been very slippery, and I think we're hearing this from Democrats and Republicans both who are trying to negotiate with the president.

SCOTT MULHAUSER, FORMER DEPUTY CAMPAIGN CHIEF OF STAFF FOR JOE BIDEN: Look, there have been more twists and turns than the Patriots game last weekend. I think what we're seeing is a window. The president gave both cover to the far right, right now, and he's giving cover and an opportunity for that --

(CROSSTALK) KEILAR: How is he giving cover to the far right?

MULHAUSER: What he's done is he's essentially said I'll sign it if it includes DACA, includes the DREAMers. What Phil showed us is that that group on the Hill, that is a sign of optimism too, that's folks on all sides of the aisle working towards something.

KEILAR: Is he in a situation, Ron, where because you have significant contingents of Republicans in both chambers of the House who are going to say, look, if we're assuming this is something that is really on the table, they're not going to go for that. Is this a signal of where Donald Trump is, what kind of support he's seeking and maybe he is realizing he might be seeking somewhat significant contingent of Democrats to get on board?

BONJEAN: I do think this is going to be a roller coaster before this is all over in the March 5th deadline will probably likely be extended. No one is on the same page here. Senate Democrats are signaling a willingness to decouple immigration from budget talks that led to the shutdown, which they -- which was a disaster for them. I think that's a positive thing, but House Democrats aren't on the same page. You have Senate Republicans on one side, House Republicans which are a much stronger piece of legislation, no one is really consistent right now. I do think that Trump voters would like a -- Trump voters would like to see something happen with the DREAMers, but they want strong immigration and I think that's where Trump is going.

KEILAR: Ron thinks we'll go beyond this three weeks extension that was -- we just saw passed in the Senate. What do you think?

MULHAUSER: I think it is a great question. I think this three weeks is -- I think you'll get signals from this group right here that is negotiating. That will tell us where we're going. Legislation starts in Congress. I think the president may signal he may introduce this immigration package, but I think what we're seeing from this group, you will see signals and whispers and rumors out of the room and that will show us. I think Ron could be right. We need to see where folks land as a result of what the president said.

[11:45:05] KEILAR: How much resistance is there on the part of Democrats when you know that a lot of their enthusiasm is coming from the base. Coming from the left. How much resistance is there to giving Donald Trump any sort of win, even if it is something that a lot of Democrats would say, hey, this is a deal we might want to go along with.

MULHAUSER: Politics matters, but so does substance. There will be tension. A lot of Democrats don't want to give particularly those in 20 who are thinking about running for president don't want to give the president that win, but they do want this DACA deal, they want a sort of fix to this broken immigration system and they may be willing to get there if the terms are right and if it makes sense for them to do it.

KEILAR: Ron, Oprah, and I'm asking you because I know we both read "InStyle" magazine. BONJEAN: Sure.

KEILAR: "So it is not something that interests me," she says, "I don't have the DNA for it." That is so different than what we heard from Steadman and heard from her best friend, Gayle King.

BONJEAN: No. Look, anything can happen, we're such a long ways away, but, I mean, there has been interest in her because she's a -- it signaled to us the Democratic Party doesn't have a deep bench out there. And so that's why there has been such a -- and she is a superstar billionaire, billioneiress. So, look, I think the reality sits into her, like, what does it mean to run for president and there is the glamour part of it and then there is the really awful part of it too. I don't know if she really wants it. She has a nice life right now.

KEILAR: I know.

What do you think, Scott?

MULHAUSER: We have a great bench. There are a bunch of Senators and members and governors alike who are thinking about it. There is a host of new folks, whether it is Oprah, the rock, Mark Cuban, whether it is Kanye. Sort of fun to think about. Oprah, I think --






MULHAUSER: Oprah would inject a dose of something new that I think would excite the electorate.

KEILAR: You know it deepens the bench, a bruising primary battle. We'll see.

Ron Bonjean, Scott Mulhauser, thank you so much to both of you.


KEILAR: Up next, it is the text between two FBI agents that led one Republican Senator to allege corruption at the highest levels of the FBI and a plot against the president. Well, we got our hands on the text, so what does it really say? We'll have that next.


KEILAR: Amid the cry from Republicans, Trump reporters and thousands of hashtags to release the memo, the Justice Department is sending a warning to the congressman that drafted the memo, Devin Nunes. This letter to the House Intel chair says, quote, "It would be extraordinarily reckless for the committee to disclose the classified memo to the public without giving the DOJ and the FBI enough time to review the information." And saying the memo may harm national security.

Well, the Nunes memo alleges abuses of surveillance law in the FBI.

And CNN's Laura Jarrett has the details for us.

[11:50:01] LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Brianna, the battle over this Nunes memo is heating up with the Justice Department now taking a swipe at House intel chairman, calling the controversial memo a, quote, staff-directed memorandum that purports to be based on classified source materials that neither you nor most, meaning most of the other members of the House intel committee, have seen. But a spokesman for Nunes is hitting back against the Justice Department's concerns, saying in a statement, quote, "Agencies that are under investigation by congressional committees don't typically get access to the committee's investigative documents about them, and it's no surprise that the agencies don't want the abuses we found to be made public."

Yet, some of those on the left who have seen the memo say releasing it would be a mistake. Take a listen to how top Democrat in the House, Jerry Nadler, described it earlier today on "NEW DAY."


JARROLD NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: It shouldn't come out, because I've read it, and I've read the underlying source material. It is profoundly misleading. Suffice it to say, the document is extremely misleading as compared to the underlying documents. And it's very dangerous for the Republicans here to say, oh, we have got this document that's terrible, but we can't tell you what's behind it, we can't show you the evidence because that's secret.


JARRETT: Now, Nadler, of course, isn't alone. As the ranking committee on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, has also signaled that Democrats may issue their own counter memo -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Also let's talk about these texts between FBI officials, talking about a secret society. It may have been a joke, actually.

You saw the text. What can you tell us?

JARRETT: So, having reviewed this memo, I have to say, it's far more cryptic than a clear plot to undermine the president. The day after the November 2016 election, FBI Lawyer Lisa Page says to Peter Strzok, "Are you going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society." But it's unclear exactly what she's referring to here without any other context. They were in the midst of a relationship. It could be some sort of inside joke the two of them shared. We just don't know.

And so, Brianna, I've reached out to the lawyers to try to get more context on all of this as we try to figure out what was their intent.

KEILAR: Because some Republicans have really seized on it. Certainly, it doesn't look good.

Laura Jarrett, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

JARRETT: Thanks.

KEILAR: I want to discuss further with CNN legal and national security analyst and former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa.

Asha, Congressman Nadler has seen this memo from chairman Nunes and says it's misleading ppt Justice Department says it would be reckless to release the classified memo without allowing the DOJ and FBI to review it, but the spokesman for Nunes says the DOJ is trying to cover up its own abuses. Who do you believe here?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think it's telling, that representative Nunes is not even willing to show it to members of the Senate intelligence committee, his own colleagues in Congress, who also have access to the underlying source information and can verify its accuracy. So, he doesn't seem to be really confident about his own work product, if you ask me. I think he's also being disingenuous because the Department of Justice letter to him also offered the opportunity for that memo to go directly to the office of the inspector general, which is an independent oversight entity within the Department of Justice that could look at it. He's refused to do that also. So, this is just problematic on many levels. You know, this is also representative Nunes, who's been investigated by his own ethics committee for leaking classified information before in his attempt to create a faux scandal about unmasking, which was debated by his own party as well.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about these text messages where Lisa Page talks about this secret society. It has prompted conspiracy theories. It does appear that she is joking, but still, Asha, that doesn't look good for FBI officials involved in these high-profile and these highly political investigations to be making a joke about resisting the president.

RANGAPPA: Well, I don't read anything about resisting the president, necessarily, into that text. It's a stand-alone text. There is no reference to the president before and after. I mean, you know, let's look at the big picture. But speaking of the big picture, I do think it's interesting that there is such a willingness to read into these words, cryptic words, and extrapolate conspiracies, and yet, when we step back and look at the actual investigation and we have e-mails that say Russia/Clinton e-mails or kremlin dinner connection, multiple actual meetings that took place, there is still a denial that there is anything approaching a matter of concern in that regard. So --

[11:55:08] KEILAR: Sure, but Asha --


RANGAPPA: I think it's a bit of a double standard. KEILAR: But when you have -- I mean, I've heard -- we've heard from

people who very much believe in this Mueller investigation, and yet, they look at something like these texts, the big picture of them, not just this one about the secret society, but taken as a whole, and it's frustrating to them, because it does muddy what they feel is an investigation that they do not believe is biased, but this gives something for critics of the investigation to seize on.

RANGAPPA: That's true. As they tell you in the FBI, perception is reality, and these agents exercised incredibly poor judgment in, really, having any kind of conversation over text which the FBI advises its agents not to do. This is a pretty clear protocol that agents know about. You know, talking about cases and subjects and people and all of that, for sure. And that is why Mueller took him off the Russia investigation immediately, as he should have, and these people should be investigated, but I do think it is dangerous to essentially smear the entire agency and its mission, because this is an agency of 35,000 people who go to work every day and do their jobs.

KEILAR: Asha Rangappa, thank you so much. We always appreciate your insight.

Still ahead, President Trump says he's looking forward to an interview with special counsel, Robert Mueller, but his lawyers are pouring some cold water on that statement. John King picks up after a quick break.