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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Trump Returns to White House Amid Mueller Bombshell and Questions about Possible Obstruction of Justice; CNN: Trump Wanted to Fire Special Counsel Mueller in June; Source: White House Counsel Don McGahn Refused to Fire Mueller; Source: Fears Trump will Direct His Anger at White House Counsel; Interview with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 26, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCUITTO, CNN HOST: OUTFRONT next, President Trump about to return to the White House and facing some of the most serious questions of his presidency. Did the President obstruct justice? Plus, who is White House counsel McGahn? Why does he seem to be at the center of so many controversies? And Billy Graham's granddaughter speaking out why she is not joining her fellow Evangelicals in giving Trump a pass for his behavior. Let's go OUTFRONT.
And good evening, I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Erin Burnett.
OUTFRONT tonight, legal jeopardy. Mounting evidence of possible obstruction of justice against the president of the United States. Mr. Trump returning from the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland just moments ago. The President back on home soil and facing tough new questions about how deeply he interfered in the Russia probe. Those questions growing tonight after revelations that Trump ordered special counsel Robert Mueller to be fired in June. Trump so far has made only one comment regarding the reports about Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you seek to fire Robert Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical "New York Times" fake stories.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCUITTO: But in fact it is not fake news. CNN has learned that Trump indeed ordered Mueller's firing last June. It didn't happen because White House Attorney Don McGahn refused to instruct the Justice Department to do so because he disagreed with Trump's reasoning, this according to one source. The revelation comes as the special counsel's investigation enters a critical stage.
Two sources tell CNN that Mueller wants to interview Trump specifically focusing on the firings of James Comey and Michael Flynn. Is Mueller now building an obstruction of justice case against the President? We know, according to "The Washington Post" that Mueller is looking specifically at a "Pattern of behavior on Trump's part," a pattern that began very early in Trump's presidency.
Let's take a look. February 13th, 2017, Flynn resigns admitting that he lied about his conversations with the then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The very next day, Trump meets with then FBI Director James Comey. Comey takes notes of the meeting and writes that Trump said, "I hope you can see your way to letting this go, to letting Flynn go." Comey does not let it go. May 9th, less than three months later, Trump fires Comey. And by Trump's own admission his reason for firing Comey was his handling of the Russia investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCUITTO: That pattern continues with Attorney General Jeff Sessions who recused himself from matters related to the investigation after his own inaccurate statements about contacts with Russians.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I am disappointed in the Attorney General. He should not have recused himself, almost immediately after he took office. And if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me prior to taking office and I would have quite simply picked somebody else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCUITTO: Also on the firing line, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Just this week, CNN learned that Wray threatened to quit as well because the President pressured him to fire or reassign McCabe. Trump tweeted his grievances about McCabe just last month he said, "How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge along with leaking James Comey of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation, including her 33,000 illegally deleted e-mails be given 700,000 for wife's campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?"
Trump has also railed at Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Mueller special counsel in the first place firing off this tweet directed at Rosenstein. "I am being investigated from firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director. Witch hunt."
Now, we know that the very month after firing Comey over the Russia investigation Trump ordered Mueller's firing. That was some seven months ago and yet since then Trump and numerous White House aides have repeatedly denied any intention the firing of Mueller. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You say, oh, I'm going to dismiss him. No. I'm not dismissing anybody.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The President is not discussing firing Bob Mueller.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: No. Not at all.
[19:05:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he setting the stage for firing Bob Mueller?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. There's no --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no way he's going to fire him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no conversation or whatsoever in the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have any reason to think that the President is going to do that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: No, I'm not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCUITTO: Those denials now look to be false. Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT tonight at the White House.
Pamela, the President about to return to the White House from this European trip. What is the thinking there on the story tonight as he comes home? I imagine not the home come that he wanted?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No. It's certainly diverted attention away from his trip to Switzerland. In fact, Marine One just landing as we speak, Jim, on the White House lawn. Gaggle of reporters lined up there eager to ask him questions, whether he takes their questions still unclear.
But basically the White House is letting his words speak for themselves on this latest bombshell revelation when the President called this reporting that he ordered Don McGahn, the White House counsel, to fire Robert Mueller and McGahn threatened to quit, fake news, basically calling the Russia probe a hoax.
But I can tell you here at the White House while the President and other were in Davos, there was the sense of surprise. People I spoke with say they knew June was a tense time. It was anxiety filled. It was touch and go for a lot of people. But they didn't realize the extent to which this tension boiled over with Don McGahn threatening to quit. Now, we're told by sources, Jim, that Don McGahn up until this point was committed to his role. He wanted to stay here at the White House, but certainly all of these news and the lack of denial from Don McGahn today certainly raises the question of potentially awkward meetings between the President and his White House counsel moving forward. Jim?
SCUITTO: That's right. Just a few awkward relationships in the White House it seems. Pamela Brown at the White House tonight. Thanks very much.
And OUTFRONT tonight Michael Zeldin, formerly served as Robert Mueller special assistant at the Department of Justice, April Ryan, she's the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and here with me in New York, Tim Naftali, presidential historian and the former director of the Nixon Presidential Library.
Tim, if I could begin with you. Looking at this now, how much danger do you think the President is in?
TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: The President is in enormous danger because he has to explain or someone has to explain for him why he wanted to fire Mueller. See, if he wanted to fire Mueller because he doesn't like the ties that Mueller wears, that's one thing. But if he wanted to fire Mueller to prevent Mueller from finding out something that would be intimidating, that's obstruction of justice, and that's the kind of thing that got Richard Nixon into a lot of trouble in 1974.
SCUITTO: And you know a thing of two about Richard Nixon. April Ryan, you know the President well, you spent a lot of time to him. Does he even understand that this pattern of behavior is problematic?
APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: Well, I'm going back to seven months ago when I said on this very show with Erin that there was mass hysteria at that time. So we actually broke it then. But let me say this, the President really didn't care then, but he listened, he was listening to his people telling him you cannot do this. And today he understands more so now, but he still wants to do things his way.
But he -- I think he has a clearer understanding today that if he were to do this versus seven months ago, this would put more of a nail in the coffin that some want to see happen. They want this administration over. And if this indeed is true, this could lead to things like impeachment -- possible impeachment proceedings if Republicans really -- if there is -- he is there.
So this is big. This President has changed over the last seven months but he still wants to do things his way but he understands the stakes are higher than what it was seven months ago.
SCUITTO: April, you mentioned what you said on this program seven months ago in that June time frame. Let's play it for our viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RYAN: One of my sources reached out to me just before we went on air and they said there's mass hysteria in the West Wing about this. We don't know if it's going to happen or if it won't happen. But what we do know, if indeed the President does fire Mueller, it shows that he's impeding the process yet again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCUITTO: April, you were hearing at that time seven months ago that the President had ordered the firing or was considering firing Mueller?
RYAN: Considering the firing, and people, I heard -- and I remember that night and it's so strange that the sources that I talked to were on the phone with me again today. That's our story. I said I know. And they said I told you. And I said I know and I believe you.
But here's the thing, it was such confusion in that White House at the time and it plays out now with the corroborating story from "The New York Times" as to what happened. They said it was just mass hysteria pandemonium because people were very concerned if you do this, you know, this presidency would be in infancy and possibly be over soon. So this is what was at stake. You know, the President was seriously thinking about pulling the trigger on firing Mueller.
SCUITTO: Let me ask you, Michael Zeldin if I can here. You're a lawyer, you know this well. Based on everything we have seen so far, do you see a case for obstruction of justice?
[19:10:06] MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO ROBERT MUELLER: Well, I see evidence of possible obstruction of justice. I don't know if I'm there that an obstruction of justice case can be made on the evidence we have. But there are some things here that are troubling.
And to Tim's point about Richard Nixon in 1974, two things that strike me as very problematic for the President is, if true, that he asked his national intelligence people to push back against the FBI's investigation, and he asked media people to push back against the investigation. And he asked the congressman, Senator Burr to try to end this thing. What got Nixon in trouble was having the CIA intervene with the FBI investigation and try to shut it down.
ZELDIN: This has parallels to that. That I think is the most problematic part for the President until such time as he testifies and then that will become the most problematic part.
SCUITTO: I got one of the phone calls, I won't say which is officially was at the time trying to push back reporting that turned out to be in fact true. But, Michael, I want to play what the President said about obstruction of justice during an impromptu Q&A with reporters at the White House. Here's the back and forth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Robert Mueller will be fair to you in this larger investigation?
TRUMP: We're going to find out. We're going to find out, because here's what we'll say, and everybody says, no collusion. There's no collusion. Now they're saying, oh, well did he fight back? Did he fight back? You fight back. Oh, it's obstruction. So here's the thing, I hope so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCUITTO: Can his lawyers use that as a legal argument say while the President was just defending himself, he was just fighting back against an investigation that he didn't think was substantive?
ZELDIN: So anyone who is under investigation, and let's assume that the President himself is under investigation, has a legal right to defend themselves. And if he wants to defend himself in the press by saying that there was no collusion and no obstruction, that's his right. What he can't do is interfere with the investigation by witness tampering or evidence destruction or seeking other law enforcement agencies to interfere.
SCUITTO: Or instructing aides to lie?
ZELDIN: That's right. All of those things that cross the rubicon of --
ZELDIN: -- defending yourself and obstructing. And I think he's crossing back and forth. And Mueller when he sits down and interviews him, because this crime of obstruction is sort of a one of intent. What was the President's intention when he did that? That's why there has to be a live in person interview, so Mueller can assess that.
And the statement that he made, if true in "Washington Post," that he ordered McGhan to order Rosenstein to fire Mueller is a window into his thinking.
SCUITTO: Right. Tim, we had a bit of a conversation about this. Because I know these are difficult legal issues for myself and for our viewers I think to understand. It's about intent. And it needs to be, you said, corrupt intent.
SCUITTO: Does that mean intent has to be the cover of crime that you committed?
NAFTALI: Yes. You know, I'm not a lawyer, but I've seen intent described in the tapes and that's why Nixon would have been impeached and removed.
SCUITTO: Because on the tape --
NAFTALI: Because it was clear that he was engaging in a cover up because he knew he committed a crime. SCUITTO: And that's the key. So if the President knew he committed a crime and covered up, that's obstruction?
NAFTALI: Or somebody else associated with him committed a crime and he's not letting the Justice Department get at that person.
SCUITTO: But if there was no crime committed or there's no evidence of a crime and the President just didn't like the investigation you're saying it's not necessarily --
NAFTALI: Didn't like the investigator. If he shuts down the investigation that's a huge problem.
SCUITTO: But if he doesn't like the person leading the investigation?
NAFTALI: That -- it's all about intent. If he did because he didn't like the color of that person's tie, it's dumb and it's a bad move but it doesn't mean it's a criminal obstruction of justice. But Michael is a lawyer.
SCUITTO: OK. Before we go, just short -- Michael, just a final thought on that.
SCUITTO: Michael just a final legal thought on that. I mean did Tim have it right there, you got to have a corrupt intent to cover up a crime?
ZELDIN: No. You have to have a corrupt intent to interfere with the administration of justice. You don't have to cover up a crime.
In Nixon's case he was covering up a case. But in obstruction of justice litigation that prosecutors bring all the time, you do not need to have the cover up of a crime. You just have the intent to interfere with the do administration of justice or an ongoing investigation so something along those lines.
SCUITTO: OK. Thanks a lot guys. I know these are complicated issues. We've got go, April. Apologies. But complicated issues, we're going to stick on it. And trust me we'll be back to this question again.
OUTFRONT next, who is White House Counsel Don McGahn and is he looking out for the President or himself?
[19:15:02] Plus Republican conspiracy theories meant to discredit the Russia probe, most are not even based in fact. So why are Trump's allies clinging to them?
And a top senator who calls Trump's move to fire Mueller, "Deeply scary," wants to take action now to protect the special counsel from the President. Senator Richard Blumenthal will be OUTFRONT.
SCUITTO: The President has just spoken to reporters. Let's listen in.
SCUITTO: I know that was very loud there, but just to recap. The President said he had a very successful trip to Davos. Reporters shouted questions about the Russian investigation and the firing of Robert Mueller. Discussions about that but the President walked away and did not answer those questions.
Breaking news now the White House lawyer who stopped Trump from firing Mueller, new questions tonight about whether Trump will now focus his anger at White House Counsel Don McGahn. Sources telling CNN that McGahn refused to follow the President's order to fire Muller threatening to quit instead. But it's not the first time McGahn has been at the center of controversy. Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some are hailing White House Counsel Don McGahn as a hero in the wake of the report he stood up to President Trump and beat down an attempt to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, the man leading the investigation Trump finds so infuriating.
TRUMP: Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by the media.
FOREMAN: Others, however, are not so sure. The former director of the Office of Government Ethics tweeting, "I bet McGahn's objection was not that firing Mueller was wrong but that it was dangerous. Also, this is not the first leak to paint McGahn in a good lighted Trump's expense. If I were Trump, I'd wonder about McGahn." But if the President has doubts about his top legal guns, they're not showing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a reason why President Trump appointed as me to be his lawyer.
FOREMAN: A long time lawyer for Republican interest and a Trump ally for several years, McGahn has been by his side throughout the Russia probe, at times, through the consternation of investigators. When the Department of Justice first raised red flags that security adviser Michael Flynn was lying to White House officials about his Russia contacts --
SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: One of the questions that Mr. McGahn asked me was essentially why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another White House official.
[19:20:06] FOREMAN: When the President fired FBI Director James Comey, McGahn reportedly pushed Trump to make sure he sided concerns about Comey's competence backed up by other government officials.
TRUMP: He's a show boat, he's a grandstander.
FOREMAN: An attempt perhaps to make it appear the dismissal was not purely about the FBI's Russia probe which Comey led.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The Russians interfered in our election.
FOREMAN: And when the President wanted Attorney General Jeff Sessions to hold the reins of the Russia investigation and not recuse himself.
TRUMP: Which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the President.
FOREMAN: Whom did he reportedly send to change Sessions mind? He failed but "New York Times" says again it was Don McGahn.
FOREMAN: It is important to note in all of this that McGahn and some members of his legal team are also among those who are being questioned as part of the Russia probe. Jim?
SCUITTO: Tom Foreman tonight in Washington.
OUTFRONT now, former associate White House counsel under George W. Bush, Jamil Jaffer, and former White House Ethics lawyer, Richard Painter.
Jamil, if I can begin with you, because you worked with White House Counsel Don McGahn. Looking back at this interaction here, do you think that he saved the President from a catastrophic plunder?
JAMIL JAFFER, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO GEORGE W. BUSH: Look, I really do think so. I mean the President firing Bob Mueller would have been a disaster for him. And so if Don McGahn did in fact -- if in fact the President was concerned and Don McGahn stopped him form doing by threatening to quit, that's good for Don and good for the President.
SCUITTO: Richard, White House counsel has a job, I mean did he have a choice in this case?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: No. I don't think he had a choice. If he wanted to do his job professionally and also not risk what happened to John Dean, President Nixon's White House counsel and ended up going to jail in connection with the obstruction of justice that was going on there. So he did the right thing. He absolutely did the right thing.
But there were not a lot of options. He could not have called up the Justice Department and put pressure on them to fire Robert Mueller. That would have brought him right into the obstruction of justice mess and made him a potential target of a criminal investigation. It have caused him his moral license too or lawyer may not assist the client in a crime. So he absolutely did the right thing. He's a very experienced lawyer and I don't think he's going to make that mistake, at least I'd hope not, of getting dragged into what appears to be an effort to derail, to obstruct the Russian investigation.
SCUITTO: Jamil, so you have this moment here with the President, Don McGahn some describing it as a heroic moment. But let's be clear here, McGahn was involved in a number of controversies, decisions by the President, including the fire of James Comey, which we know is central to Mueller's investigation. Is he really a hero in this story?
JAFFER: Well, look, I mean I think Don McGahn is doing his job, which is to protect the President and protect the White House. That's literally his job as the White House counsel. And so where he gives President advice or does things on behalf of the White House, he's doing his job. And you should expect a lawyer to be vociferous advocate for their client and that's what he's doing. And so to the extent that he threatened to quit here if the story is true then they try to protect the President there too by saying, look, if you do this, this is a mistake for you and for the presidency, you shouldn't do this.
SCUITTO: Richard, McGahn, I mean, this is a complicated story, there are some difficult legal situations here and McGahn might be a case in point. I mean he's been interviewed as part of the special counsel's investigation. Does his role here refusing to act on the order to fire special counsel muddy his position legally?
PAINTER: Well, it could. But I don't think it makes it impossible for him to continue his job as White House counsel. He has an extremely difficult client. And we all know that. President Trump's private lawyers have to deal with him as an extremely difficult client as well.
McGahn is experienced lawyer. And, you know, there are areas where I think he could do more with respect to financial conflicts of interest in the administration to making sure the White House follows the ethics rules, but he's dealing with a client who is under mining him right and left. And I wouldn't want to second guess his professionalism in a dealing with a situation, which I certainly wouldn't want to be with, which is be the White House counsel for President Trump.
SCUITTO: Difficult client, you say. Jamil, we've heard Walter Shaub raise the probability that McGahn is the leaker of the story. As you know, we all know the White House hates leakers and yet there are a lot of leakers in the White House often to their own advantage.
JAFFER: Well, look, I mean the White House is in a challenged situation right now because, you know, the President is critical of his own aides when they don't do what he wants and his own aides are, you know, out there leaking out. I don't see Don McGahn as the leaking type. That's just not the kind of lawyer he is. He's not the lawyer that I met and spent a little time with.
[19:25:08] So I don't see that but, you know, that's out there. And I'm sure people are asking that question. But here's the bottom line, right, which is the important thing to remember here is that if President fires Bob Mueller he's be in a lot of trouble. He knows that, he realizes that, so I'm just not sure why that's even, you know, a focus here. What the President ought to be doing is focusing on his agenda on tax cuts, regulatory reform and stop worrying about the Mueller investigation. It's going to happen. It's going to be what it is. The President should focus on his agenda and move on with that.
SCUITTO: Richard, you got a lot of leaking going on. There's an active investigation. Does that prejudice the investigation, interfering the investigation in any way?
PAINTER: Oh I don't know. It might help the investigation. Certainly leaking to that book, that Michael Wolff book, but then again, President Trump and his political people invited the author right there in the White House to go around interviewing people.
Of course, the President who throws staff members under the bus and fires people with regularity is going to have more leaking going on for example President Bush. You know, we had leaking as well. But I think the lawyers are usually the last people to leak, because that's clear violation of the professional ethics obligation of confidentiality of a lawyer. And a lawyer could lose his bar license over that so I sort of doubt it would be a lawyer.
SCUITTO: Well, Richard, Jamil, gentlemen, thanks very much for your time tonight.
JAFFER: Thanks, Jim.
PAINTER: Thank you.
SCUITTO: And OUTFRONT next, the President's defenders, including some in Congress are still embracing now debunked conspiracy theories such as anti-Trump secret society. Why? And Congress moving to protect the special counsel, can they shield him from the President?
[19:30:11] SCIUTTO: Tonight, as President Trump denies reports that he tried to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump's allies in Congress and on Fox News are still pushing conspiracy theories about the FBI. All in an apparent effort to discredit Mueller and any agency connected to the Russia probe. The latest example, Russians zeroing in on text messages between two FBI officials to claim that the whole agency is bias.
For days, they pointed to a text from FBI lawyer Lisa Page to FBI agent Pete Strzok to read, quote, are you even going to give out your calendar? It seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should be the first meeting of the secret society.
So, here's what Republicans said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: There is a text exchange between these two FBI agents, supposed to be fact-centric FBI agents saying perhaps this is the first meeting of the secret society. So, of course, I'm going to want to know, what secret society are you talking about?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Secret society? We have an informant that's talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: And the only problem, and it's a big one, that secret society was just a joke. This according to sources familiar with that tenth exchange.
And I might add Senator Johnson who you just saw talking there about that secret society now admits as well that it is, quote, a real possibility that comment was in jest. And he is now noticeably silent on the issue. In fact, we invited Johnson on the show tonight, and last night, and the night before. He declined.
Then, there is the controversial memo by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes which Republicans want to release. Nunes claims that it shows FBI wrongdoing related to surveillance activities in the Russia investigation. Republicans have gone all in on the memo, embracing contents as proof they say of a FBI conspiracy against Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: This memo is troubling. It demonstrates certainly wrongdoing.
REP. SCOTT PERRY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Do you think about, is this happening about in America, or is this the KGB, that's how alarming this is.
REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I think this will not end just with firings. I believe there are people who will go to jail.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: But this week, the president's own Justice Department run by his appointee, Jeff Sessions, said it is, quote, unaware of any wrongdoing, adding that it would be, quote, again, extraordinarily reckless to release the memo before the DOJ and FBI reviewed it, sighting concerns about national security. But Nunes won't show the memo to the DOJ or the FBI. He won't even show it to the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who referred to the document somewhat dismissively as Devin's memo.
Next up, the dossier on President Trump's possible ties to Russia. Trying to preach that Democrats alone paid for the dossier and suggesting that the dossier singlehandedly kicked off the entire Russia probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GAETZ: My concern is that this dossier was created at the behest of the Democratic Party. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know now without a shadow of a doubt that the
Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, paid Fusion GPS and Steele to acquire this dossier.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think the next focus will be on whether or not did the FBI use this dossier to get any warrants, did they use it to open up counterintelligence investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Let's look at the facts. Fusion GPS, the firm by behind the dossier was first hired and paid by the Republicans, the Washington Free Beacon to be exact, a conservative newspaper associated with a major Republican donor. It was only when Trump became the apparent nominee that a law firm associated with the DNC and the Clinton campaign took over.
As for the dossier's role in sparkling the Russia probe, "The New York Times" reported that the investigation started in fact because former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told Australia's top diplomat in Britain that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton, which prompted Australian officials to share that information with U.S. counterparts. And more broadly, CNN has reported FBI had own intelligence to spark the investigation. And officials tell us across the board the bureau would not seek on outside which it had not corroborated itself.
President Trump has been peddling conspiracy theories as well, countless comments from the commander-in-chief, charging the FBI with bias, saying the bureau is, quote, in tatters. Trump also accused President Obama last year of having wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Trump promised to show proof to back up his claim. That never happened. And once again his own Justice Department shot down that conspiracy theory and said there was no evidence to support the claim.
[19:35:03] OUTFRONT now, host of "The Ben Ferguson Show", Ben Ferguson, and host of "State of Resistance" podcast, Sally Kohn.
Ben, you saw what we laid out there, the conspiracy theories and as they've been falling when presented with the inconvenience of facts, why do you think Republicans keep leaning on these unproven conspiracy theories so prominently?
BEN FERGUSON, HOST, "THE BEN FERGUSON SHOW": I thin it's sad that we're calling everything a conspiracy theory when what Republicans are doing in many of these cases is actually asking question. It is fair to ask question --
SCIUTTO: To be fair, they're not asking --
FERGUSON: Let me finish.
SCIUTTO: I'll let you finish --
FERGUSON: You have two FBI agents who clearly have shown in their text message bias against Donald Trump and even talking about needing to have an insurance policy in case Donald Trump is elected. These same two individuals used the words describing that they might actually need to have some sort of secret meeting in their own words. These same messages which were lost for four-month period, now we found them, thank goodness, to actually look at it and do an investigation.
If you are mad at somebody for bringing up conspiracy theory, we should be mad at the two FBI agents who clearly showed bias to the president, and one demoted, let's not forget, and taken off the Mueller investigation, clearly showing some wrongdoing. And if you are mad that a conspiracy theory, if that's what people want to call it, is out there, you should be mad at the FBI agents for using the language and the words talking about having secret meetings off-site, and talking about needing an insurance policy against Donald Trump.
SCIUTTO: Before I go back over some of the facts that are easily disproven I want to go to Sally to get her view.
SALLY KOHN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I sent texts to my friends all the time comparing my date of Beyonces, but it doesn't mean I'm Beyonce.
FERGUSON: You don't work at the FBI.
KOHN: That's the first thing, you can't interpret those text as out of context, didn't mention Trump as a joke, that's scary, and it's unfortunate for the viewers at home that they haven't invented smell- a-vision, that's desperate number one. Number two, larger point, and I'm curious to hear your thoughts, Ben, is the implication is not that Republicans have a problem with someone of the other party or other political persuasion potentially being involved in an investigation, but, rather, what your real problem is anyone being involved in an investigation who doesn't agree with you, because last I checked.
FERGUSON: Not true.
KOHN: Excuse, well, let me ask, last I checked, you didn't complain when Republicans investigated Benghazi times, eight separate investigations. He didn't say.
FERGUSON: People died in Benghazi. I had no problem with that investigation.
KOHN: My point is --
FERGUSON: I don't know what Benghazi has to do with this.
KOHN: Ben, you didn't say, hey, they can't investigate President Obama because they're Republicans, that's not fair. Only Democrats should -- FERGUSON: I haven't said anything --
KOHN: Ben, I'll give you a chance. When Comey who historically was a Republican was investigating Hillary, I didn't hear you say, hey, hey, that's not fair, he's a Republican he can't investigate a Democrat.
SCIUTTO: OK. Point made, Ben, let's hear your respond.
FERGUSON: Sally, I've never said it's only fair if this person investigates or this person doesn't investigate. Let's deal with facts.
The fact is and it's undisputed facts here, these two FBI agents clearly high level in the FBI, which I remind you, have now been taken out of an investigation into Russian because of their bias. Many people believe they should be fired for their bias. Let's not forget about that. Put these words in their own text messages out there.
They also clearly show that they hated the president of the United States of America. They wanted Hillary Clinton to win. And thought they needed an insurance policy if Donald Trump was elected in their words.
SCIUTTO: Ben, on that point, because a couple things I said which have not been borne out by the facts. One, let me ask you this key questions.
FERGUSON: Which ones?
SCIUTTO: Well, secret society, even Ron Johnson admits it was a joke.
FERGUSON: I don't think he's admitted a joke. He said it was possibility they could --
SCIUTTO: Did you see the text messages?
FERGUSON: FBI agents should never joke about a secret society when they are investigating the president of the United States of America. This is FBI, not people on TMZ, or people like the Kardashian.
SCIUTTO: The secret society was about -- they were giving out gag Putin calendars to a group of people?
FERGUSON: That's what they say.
FERGUSON: Let me get this straight. Jim, let's be clear here. Get this straight. You are telling me because you have all these text messages between two FBI agents that clearly show a bias against the president, you are saying everything they said about the president is a joke, they should not have been demoted for their jobs?
[19:40:04] FERGUSON: Come on. SCIUTTO: I was correcting the record --
FERGUSON: I mean, that's absorbed.
SCIUTTO: -- where the record needed to be corrected. But let me ask you a bigger picture question because -- and I'm curious if this makes a difference for you, because you referenced it a bit. When Mueller discovered these text messages between these two agents, he, of course, it seemed found it to be unacceptable because he found them both fired -- both removed rather I should say from the investigation.
SCIUTTO: Mueller did. Is that sufficient change for you and does that take your --
SCIUTTO: -- take your bias away?
FERGUSON: I have not criticized Mueller. Let me be clear. I have not ever criticized Mueller, implying that somehow I think he is biased in this investigation. I want to be clear.
He clearly saw there is some problem with those FBI agents at this high level in the FBI being in this position, he demoted them. But to say everything else now is a joke, no, even the former FBI director knows this is not a joke, to the point he took off the investigation. This is a real issue.
SCIUTTO: The joke was referring to that one message.
But listen, thanks to both of you. It's a tough issue. And I appreciate you going at it fairly tonight. Ben, Sally.
FERGUSON: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: OUTFRONT next, Democrats rushing to protect Robert Mueller from being fired. Will they succeed? Senator leading the charge will join me.
And Billy Graham's granddaughter says that evangelical leaders are looking the other way whether it comes to Trump because they are getting something in return, what is it? We are going to ask her.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back.
Tonight, Congress moving to protect Robert Mueller from President Trump. This after stunning revelation he tried to fire Robert Mueller last year, but only relented when his own counsel refused to carry out the order. OUTFRONT now, one of the key senators who is pushing a bill to protect
Robert Mueller, he is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Senator, thanks for joining us tonight.
Outside of this bill, is there anything you can do to ensure that Mueller keeps his job?
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: W can certainly appeal to the public. The court of public opinion is a very effective remedy. And we can appeal to colleagues to raise a human cry, indeed I think there would be a firestorm if the president fires Robert Mueller.
[19:45:00] But the whole purpose of the legislation is to avoid that constitutional conflagration. The unnecessary self inflicted crisis similar to the Saturday Night Massacre, or similar kinds of confrontations that have paralyzed the government. We already have enough dysfunction. We don't need this kind of confrontation.
SCIUTTO: Saturday Night Massacre, of course, when Nixon fired special counsel. The chairman of your committee, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, he told our Manu Raju that President Trump should let the Mueller probe work its course and he also said he is open to considering bills to protect Mueller. Is it your sense, first, that Grassley has pledged his support to a bill like this?
BLUMENTHAL: That report is very significant, Jim, just a few hours ago, Chairman Grassley told CNN that he was open to considering --
BLUMENTHAL: -- this kind of protection for this special counsel. And the simple answer is it is the first indication from the chairman that in fact he would be open to moving forward. I've been disappointed with the apparent silence from almost all my Senate colleagues in the last 24 hours because this bombshell, the action by the president back in June to fire the special counsel ought to prompt everyone in the Senate to do our constitutional duty and to protect the special counsel against this obstruction of justice that now is looming.
SCIUTTO: Are you saying that base on what you've seen, the president object obstructed justice?
BLUMENTHAL: There is credible case of obstruction of justice against the president of the United States. And what we are seeing, in fact, extraordinarily is obstruction of justice in a sense unfolding right before us in real time with the actions and statements that he's making.
You referred earlier to his saying he is fighting back, and that he has a right to fight back. He is entitled to make a defense. He has a right to present arguments and facts that exonerate him. He has no right to misuse the powers of his office to intimidate witnesses, to fire prosecutors, to withhold documents or destroy them. And that is a very clear line that evidently he doesn't respect.
SCIUTTO: It is interesting that a lot of these comments not happening in secret rooms somewhere. They are happening via Twitter or in the public sphere.
Now, Trump ordered Mueller to be fired in June of last year, seven months ago, since then the president said on multiple occasions he's not interested in firing Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They say, oh, I'm going to dismiss him? No, I'm not dismissing anybody.
REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: No, I'm not at all.
REPORTER: Are you considering firing Robert Mueller?
TRUMP: No, I'm not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Mr. Senator, was the president lying to the American people?
BLUMENTHAL: He said a lot over the last seven months. The reason why we introduced this legislation some six months ago or five months ago was in fact the threat of firing Robert Mueller. Not just that one action, which in fact was unknown to us at the time, but a lot of what he was saying then and what others have said since, his surrogates and his sycophants in Congress launching the attack that you described so well just a few moments ago on the FBI, on law enforcement generally, on Robert Mueller's team, on Robert Mueller himself ought to give all of us a reason to take this action.
There is nothing downward or no down side about passing this legislation, and it would help send a message to the president that there will be a firestorm, that there will be no tolerance for him firing special counsel.
SCIUTTO: Do you believe the president will sit down with the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to be asked questions under oath?
BLUMENTHAL: I think he will. He said he will. He said he's looking forward to it. The legislation that we've offered I want to emphasize is bipartisan. I think there will be a bipartisan demand that he sit down with the special counsel. I think there will be a bipartisan firestorm if he, in effect, stone walls the investigation.
SCIUTTO: Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks very much.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: And OUTFRONT next, Billy Graham's granddaughter says that evangelical leaders are wrong to forgive Trump for his alleged affair with a porn star. She's my next guest.
[19:54:25] SCIUTTO: Tonight, forgiveness or a double standard, prominent evangelical leaders on the record giving President Trump a pass on a recent allegations of a sexual affair with porn star and reports of paying her off in return to silence her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JERRY FALWELL, JR., PRESIDENT, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: He's not the same person now that he was back then. I believe he has changed. What they don't understand about evangelicals is our whole faith is based on the theology of forgiveness.
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: He wanted to have the support of evangelicals and he came to them saying I'm going to put pro-life justices, I'm picking a pro-life conservative running mate and he embraced himself in the most conservative party platform ever.
[19:55:05] And yes, evangelicals, conservatives gave him a mulligan. They let him have a do-over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: A mulligan.
OUTFRONT now, Jerushah Armfield. She is the granddaughter of Billy Graham, one of the world's best known evangelists.
Jerushah, you heard those comments there, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell Jr. Do you agree that Trump gets a pass?
JERUSHAH ARMFIELD, REV. BILLY GRAHAM'S GRANDDAUGHTER: You know, I think, obviously, our faith believes in forgiveness. I think in order to forgive somebody, that individual needs to repent and apologize. And I don't think America has seen that from our president in any scenario really.
SCIUTTO: I have to ask this and this sort of the parlor game, but it's a fair question. What about if it is President Obama, who had an extramarital affair years before office, with a porn star, paid her off for her silence, could you imagine your grandfather, your uncle, Tony Perkins, saying the same thing?
ARMFIELD: I think the reality, Jim, is I think we all know the answer to that question. I think that --
SCIUTTO: What is the answer?
ARMFIELD: I don't think that any of the prior world leaders have been forgiven for anything by some of these evangelicals. I think the question you're asking is the exact same question that I'm asking. And I think the world knows the answer nothing these leaders have said or done have illustrated that they would give that forgiveness to, let's say President Obama in that situation.
Now, had President Obama asked for forgiveness, had he then in humility changed his behavior? Absolutely. I think that's a core of our faith. But you've got to, you know, ask for forgiveness first.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Your uncle, Franklin Graham, he also pointed to the fact that the affair, the alleged affair happened years before Trump took office. Here's what he told my colleague Don Lemon about the president's responsibility as a role model.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Isn't the president supposed to be a role model for all?
FRANKLIN GRAHAM: You certainly want him to be a role model. He is a businessman, he is not a politician. He's a businessman. And when he is in business meetings, he talks in certain way. And he is trying to get the point across. But, Don, I believe Donald Trump is a good man and I believe he's president of the United States for a good reason. I think God put him there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Do you agree with those excuses, your uncle's excuses for President Trump's behavior?
ARMFIELD: Well, first, a lot of times people seem to be focusing on the language that he used which really wasn't the issue. I don't think that was anybody's issue was the language that he used. I think it was the context of what he said around the language that he used. And, you know --
SCIUTTO: You are talking about the shit hole comment about countries. Yes, OK.
ARMFIELD: The comments about Haiti. Yes. Yes, sir. Yes, for sure.
I think they are focusing on the language and making excuses for it. Well, I don't really know that that was anybody's issue to begin with. I think it was, you know, the disheartening dehumanizing comments that were said around the word.
I also think that -- you know, you -- I said the last time I was on your program, Jim, my president doesn't have to be a Christian, but I don't want him to be held up as the poster boy for Christian evangelical because he doesn't represented most of us.
SCIUTTO: It seems like the tradeoff here is essentially political. The evangelical leaders are giving Trump a pass because and you heard Perkins there say, well, he's got a Christian vice president, policies for instance on abortion.
Do you think that is a fair trade-off? That, in effect, those positions outweigh or even erase other behaviors, comments, et cetera that you've seen and heard from Trump?
ARMFIELD: No, no. And I understand a lot of evangelicals are supporting him because of his policies. I'd love to see a Christian leader come out and say that they support Trump for his policies but that his behavior disgusts them and he needs to clean up his act.
I would love to just hear one of them say that, but it seems to be both ends. If they support these policies, they also feel like they have to stay hush on his behavior. And I just feel like it's sending the wrong message to the world about what Christianity is and what evangelicals are or I guess, you know, have become.
SCIUTTO: Jerushah, just quickly, before we go, do you see any evangelical support for the president waning after this first year in office in some of these things they've seen and heard?
ARMFIELD: From the things that I have seen, no. I see possibly a turn that they will start to speak out a little bit more about some of his behavior, but no, those policies that they are hoping he is going to push through -- they seem kind of paramount right now.
SCIUTTO: Jerushah, thanks so much for taking the time tonight and speaking so honestly on very difficult issues.
ARMFIELD: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: And thanks to you as well for joining us. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Erin tonight. Please make sure you have a great weekend.
"AC360" starts right now.