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Interview With Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz; Deputy FBI Director Leaving Job Early; House Intel Committee Could Vote Soon On Nunes FBI Memo; Fact Checking The President's Climate Change Claims. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 29, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: And we're back with some breaking news in our politics lead.

Moments from now, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee might vote to release the controversial classified memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI against an associate of President Trump.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman of Matt Gaetz of Florida. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

First, I want to get your reaction to the news that now former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe has left the FBI.

And, also, I'm wondering, what is your understanding of why that happened today?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: I don't know why.

I will say I think it is a step forward for the country. Many of us have been concerned about the highest levels of the FBI and Department of Justice becoming too susceptible to politics and political influence.

And I think that we can all move forward from this and try to ensure that we have got the type of confidence within those institutions that our democracy would demand.

I would caution against casting an entire man's career based on one moment or one investigation. Andrew McCabe has likely done many things for this country that we will never know about. And he deserves our thanks for his many years of service, even if there are things here in the most recent days and months that have given us some concern.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the Nunes memo. You have called for it to be released. As you know, the assistant attorney general, Stephen Boyd, who is a

Trump appointee, he says it would be -- quote -- "extraordinarily reckless" for the memo to be made public without a full and thorough review by the Justice Department.

Is he wrong?

GAETZ: I believe he is.

Mr. Boyd hasn't read the memo and there are very good reasons why you wouldn't want the FBI and the Justice Department to be the very next folks to review this information.

I think that the best thing to do for the country is to release this information into the public square, and then let's have a thoughtful and thorough debate about the type of country we want to have, the type of surveillance policies that we think are appropriate, the time of corroborating evidence that should accompany FISA warrants.

And I think that, at the end of the day, we might actually get some bipartisan agreement out of this if we can think of it not just in terms of the existing political structure, but whether or not we ever want to have political parties working in concert with our intelligence community to go after other political parties or political candidates.


I think we can all agree that we could do better in that respect, and the release of this memo will be a good next step.

TAPPER: Well, you say that there is a good reason to not let the FBI and the Justice Department see the memo before releasing it. What is that good reason?

GAETZ: Well, Jake, I can't go into the reasons that would confirm or denials the facts that are in the memo.

I will say that it does not include sources or methods. Typically, we try to be very, very cautious before releasing anything that could disclose a source or a method of collection of information.

I think that the Intelligence Committee staff that drafted this memo was very careful to ensure that it didn't include those types of things that would be redacted. Based on what I have read, there are no redactions necessary.

We should release this full memo and we should also be working to release an accompanying information and data that buttress the facts that are laid out. And I think that's the only reason why the memo wasn't released sooner. Chairman Nunes and the Intelligence Committee correctly wanted to vet that information and ensure that we have got the most credible product for the American people to review.

TAPPER: I guess one of the things that people who are hearing about the Nunes memo have an issue is, about is, if the problem is that, in your view, in the view of other House Republicans, the FBI has a bias problem at the leadership level, why would it be that releasing a memo that is supported only by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee and is being attacked by Democrats as misleading and cherry- picked and highly partisan, why would that be the solution?

Are you not trying to solve a problem of alleged bias with a solution that is inherently biased?

GAETZ: No, I think that the best way to sort of sand off the rough edges of this discourse is to have free and open debate with as many facts before the American people as possible.

If members of Congress just sit behind closed doors and snipe at each other regarding what constitutes a fact or a cherry-picked fact or inappropriate or appropriate context, we don't really move the debate forward for the country.

So, if Democrats have ideas or data or information that they would like to have into the public square, so long as it doesn't threaten our national security or disclose sources and methods, I would invite their contribution to that discussion.

I don't think it is helpful, though, for them to block the American people from being able to review this information. And you know what, Jake? When you read the memo, it is going to be pretty clear why Democrats, and particularly the Democratic Party, did not want it to come into the public light.

And I hope we can move past just viewing these things as Republican or Democrat claims, but evaluate the facts in their entirety and then craft reforms that would apply to both parties equally.

TAPPER: You have said that special counsel Robert Mueller, who, of course, is a Republican, should be fired because he has hired some top investigators who are Democrats.

By that same logic, could it not be said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is a clear Republican, has given money to Republicans, or FBI Director Christopher Wray, who is a Republican and has only given money to Republicans, they support the president, are -- is their fairness -- quote -- question because they're Republicans, as opposed to these Democrats that you are questioning?

GAETZ: Well, Jake, I would take some exception with your premise.

It is not my belief that Robert Mueller should fired simply because people on his team have viewpoints or even that people have just made political contributions.

My concern is that the bias that any person could bring to any job actually seemed to manifest in this case and in a conspiracy to undermine the president of the United States.


GAETZ: Well, you have Pete Strzok and Lisa Page talking about an insurance policy, talking about meeting in...


TAPPER: And Strzok was removed. Right.

GAETZ: Right, but before that removal, he was interviewing Mike Flynn. He was engaged in other investigative activity.

And you have people currently involved in Mueller probe that defended the Clinton Foundation. With all the talented prosecutors we have in our federal system, why would you go and include people who previously represented an entity that has such a close tie to one of the participants in the 2016 election is beyond me.

So I think that there is really a mosaic of evidence here, not one particular donation or one particular party affiliation, that illuminates tremendous bias that should stop this probe from going forward.

TAPPER: One of the other issues at play here is that a lot of critics of Robert Mueller have been engaged in what seems to be speculative and in some cases even conspiracy theories about what is going on.

For instance, last week, there are the text messages between Strzok and Page. You just referenced them. They were released. There was a reference to a secret society.

You, Senator Ron Johnson seized on that, suggesting this was evidence of a conspiracy against the president at the FBI and DOJ. You and others also suggested that these missing texts at the time were also part of the conspiracy. Now we have since learned that the reference to the secret society seems to have been made in jest when you look at the whole context.


And the Department of Justice inspector general recovered those missing texts.

Do you think it's a mistake to push things like this as evidence of a cabal to undermine the president?

GAETZ: Well, Jake, I would say that I was one of the first members of Congress to say that I was skeptical that texts were in fact missing.

I was citing back to a letter from December 13 that Inspector General Horowitz sent to Ron Johnson saying that he was in possession of the text messages. And so I never held out the view that it was certain that all of the messages were gone. I believed there was a distinct possibility they were recoverable.

As for the secret society comment, I don't believe that there's any group of people with costumes and rituals meeting off-campus. But is there is a possibility that people were injecting their political viewpoint in a way that manifested in investigative activity or prosecutorial decisions that links back to bias? I absolutely think that was the case.


TAPPER: Didn't you call it the greatest coincidence since the immaculate conception?


GAETZ: Yes. That was probably not the best analogy I could have drawn, Jake.

But I do think that it was an unfortunate coincidence, particularly when you look at the months that were covered. So, look, we still haven't seen all those text messages, right?

I think we're going to learn a lot when we look at the text messages from the month of May. That was when a lot of these decisions were being made where, if there was a conspiracy, we would have seen evidence in the month of May.

And I think we have seen evidence in the text messages that have been released thus far of people getting together and manifesting their bias in the form of a false investigation of the president built on a rotten premise and incorrect information.

TAPPER: I guess one of the big questions for a lot of people who are watching this all is that days before the presidential election in 2016, the FBI director came forward, he made an announcement that Hillary Clinton blames for her loss in the presidential election.

He said he was reexamining evidence in the investigation into her e- mail server. If you look at polls, it does seem to have had an effect. And you're saying that the same FBI that did that is biased against Donald Trump.

And it almost doesn't make any sense.

GAETZ: Well, no, it absolutely makes sense.

Jake, if you take as a premise that there were people at the FBI who fundamentally believed that Hillary Clinton was going to be president and they didn't want to make her mad, you could evidence that claim, not by what Republicans have said, but by what Peter Strzok and Lisa Page have said to each other in their own messages to each other.


TAPPER: But I'm talking about what Comey did 10 days before the election.

GAETZ: Right.

And so if there were people in the FBI, let's assume Comey was one of them who believed that Hillary Clinton was going to be president. You wouldn't want evidence to be sat on or not disclosed that might be exculpatory in an investigation. And so I think that was largely a CYA event, with Mr. Comey injecting himself there at the very end.


TAPPER: Wait a second.

You're actually citing Comey coming out 10 days before the election saying he was reopening and reexamining evidence in the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton, you're saying he did that to help her?

GAETZ: No, no, no.

I'm not saying he did that to help her. I think he did it to help himself. I think he did it to have a narrative in the event that these messages or e-mails that were on Anthony Weiner's computer, if they were exculpatory in the investigation into Hillary Clinton, James Comey didn't want that to be something that was dormant right before an election.

And so he released it into the public square.

TAPPER: Do you have any issue with him doing that 10 days before the election? Do you think that that injected politics into the FBI?

GAETZ: I think that there's a lot that went on with Mr. Comey and the decisions he made leading up to the election that deserves a tremendous amount of scrutiny.

I think it is one of the reasons that the president fired him. And you know what, Jake? When we release this memo, we can have a far more and thoughtful and I think hopefully productive discussion about how an FBI director should act in an event like this going forward, because this was an event where Mr. Comey just went rogue and did what he did wanted to do without really a linkage to the policies and procedures that should be followed in a serious investigation.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Gaetz, thank you so much for your time, sir. We appreciate it.

GAETZ: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Breaking news on the sudden departure of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. He stepped down from his post after pressure from the FBI director, Christopher Wray, according to "The New York Times."

"The Times" reports that Wray grew concerned about McCabe after reading an inspector general report on the role of top FBI officials in the 2016 investigations into Hillary Clinton's e-mail use and connections between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

"The Times" reports that after reading this I.G. report, Wray suggested McCabe be moved to another role at the FBI, but that would effectively be a demotion since he is deputy director.

That and much more in our breaking news with our panel next -- right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:45:00] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news. I want to bring back my panel. Congressman Rogers, let me start with you. First of all, in terms of this Nunes memo, one of the things it seems so confusing to me is that the question is whether or not FBI officials because they have this bias cooked the books in order to get the surveillance warrants for Carter Page. Couldn't President Trump right now declassify not only the surveillance warrant but any of the follow-up information, follow-up documentation that the FBI needed to provide and clear all this up so we can see what the facts are?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, the actual application that went to the court would have to have the court approval as well. But all the leading information leading up to that affidavit, absolutely. And what's interesting about -- this is where I think Republicans are on a little bit of shaky ground here. If they go ahead and release this memo, and they're trying to make their case that they used information that they knew to be wrong and didn't report it to the judge, that may in fact happen. But I've been through this affidavits, you normally will have five sources, in addition, to corroborate pieces of that information or draw the picture for the judge so he and she can make the decision. So some -- I think what they're going to find happen is, here's my five reasons why I think it was a bad warrant, over time you're going to get the full aspect of what that application for a warrant was and those are pretty thorough and you have DOJ people sign off on it, senior leadership in the FBI sign off on it. I doubt they based it on a single source of information of which they had actually paid for which could be a problem for them. I'm not saying, here's the other piece if I may do it quickly. If they believe this is a problem, if they believe that the FBI purposely misused information to go to the FISA judge, that is a serious, serious crime. It's not just a -- you know, you shouldn't have done that, it's a crime. And my argument is rather than a memo, do a full investigation, talk to the witnesses, talk to all the sources of information in there or least look at who they were. Look at all of their files.

[16:50:59] TAPPER: Right. And Amanda, one of the things also that I think is difficult for these specific House Republicans is that every few months, we get one of these things. Whether it's the secret society thing last week or the Uranium One or unmasking or Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, and ultimately it turns out to be a big goose egg or at the very least you could argue that unmasking, maybe there should be some looked into that but not by Obama, just in general the intelligence community. And it's just so often not true.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Here's the thing that makes me not believe that there's a huge bombshell in this memo. If House Republicans had evidence that there is a deep state coup that threatens to undermine our democracy, wouldn't you get the memo out? Wouldn't you leak that information to a reporter? Wouldn't you not be playing hide the ball with this ridiculous days, weeks-long Twitter hashtag game? Wouldn't you have a responsibility to save our democracy and put that information out? I think yes.

TAPPER: As soon -- as soon as possible, very quickly.

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I would just say we should -- just to touch on that, we do know that release the memo has been pushed by Russian bots as well.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks one and all for being here. President Trump thinks the polar ice caps are breaking records in growing. We're here to help the president with his facts about the environment. Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "EARTH MATTERS LEAD." Can the earth be both cooling and heating? President Trump seems to think so and he told Piers Morgan that in the new interview. He also happen to mention that the polar ice caps are not melting either. Here's a fact check.


PIERS MORGAN, BRITISH JOURNALIST: Do you believe in climate change?

TAPPER: That question has won the overwhelming majority of scientists worldwide have answered with a confident yes. Climate change is real. But when Piers Morgan ask this of the President of the United States --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a cooling and there's a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change. It used to be global warming.

MORGAN: Right.

TRUMP: Right? That wasn't working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place. The ice caps were going to melt, they would have be gone but now. But now, they're setting records, OK, they're at a record level.

TAPPER: This Doctor Brenda Ekwurzel, a Senior Climate Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She studied the environment for more than 25 years. Does she believe in climate change?

BRENDA EKWURZEL, SENIOR CLIMATE SCIENTIST, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: That's like asking if you believe in gravity. I know from the facts as a Senior Climate Scientist that climate change is real and it's affecting us now.

TAPPER: Now back to President Trump. Let's start with this part of his response.

TRUMP: There is a cooling and there's a heating. I mean, look, it used to not be climate change. It used to be global warming.

MORGAN: Right.

TRUMP: Right? TAPPER: Actually it's always been climate change and global warming.

EKWURZEL: As a scientist, we tend to use the term climate change because there's all sorts of changes that are happening on the planet, including global average temperatures rising over the long term. And that latter part is called global warming.

TAPPER: The President has a theory as to why global warming isn't used as much in his view.

TRUMP: That wasn't working too well because it was getting too cold all over the place.

EKWURZEL: It is not getting too cold. The global average temperatures for the earth is warming and that's a fact.

TAPPER: Take a look at this heat map from NASA showing rising temperatures from 1884 to 2016. According to researchers, 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred within the last 20 years. And lastly, how about those changing ice caps?

TRUMP: The ice caps were going to melt, they would be gone by now, but now they're setting records. According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year saw the second smallest annual sea ice area on record. This images from NASA show how quickly the ice is in fact disappearing.

EKWURZEL: We're losing vast tracks of Arctic sea ice in the summer. And just because it's winter time, doesn't mean that you can point to sea ice in the winter and say climate change is not happening. That's just gobbledygook.

TAPPER: Gobbledygook versus science. You be the judge.


TAPPER: CNN reached out to NASA to see if any of NASA's climate change researchers or experts would be able to state the facts about climate change for that segment, NASA said no. Keep in line, NASA gets its funding from the federal government which is led by President Trump. Perhaps every scientist from that government agency was busy today or perhaps telling Americans the truth about climate change might put you at risk with the administration in terms of your job. Neera, Amanda and Congressman Rogers, thanks so much for being here today. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Tomorrow is the State of the Union. Don't forget to watch. See you.