Return to Transcripts main page
THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
President Trump Set to Deliver State of the Union; How Will Democrats Respond to State of the Union?; Christie: Trump Shouldn't Sit Down With Mueller; CIA Director: "Of Course" Russia Will Try to Interfere in Midterms. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 30, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you drink every time President Trump says Russia tonight, you will have a very sober State of the Union.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump now saying he wants America to see that secret Republican memo alleging FBI abuses, one Democrats say is completely one-sided, but the president doesn't want you to see it until after his State of the Union speech, when he makes his case for bipartisanship first.
Also, breaking news. President Trump expected to make eye-opening comments on North Korea this evening. Will his remarks ratchet up tensions with that nuclear power?
Plus, Democrats in search of direction. The party planning no fewer than five different responses to President Trump's speech tonight. Have Democrats lost the ability to speak with one voice?
Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
With hours to go until President Trump's first official State of the Union address, the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, today attacked Mr. Trump for -- quote -- "extreme dereliction of duty."
Mr. Schumer was responding to the Trump administration's refusal to implement as of today the sanctions against Russia that Congress passed overwhelmingly to punish Putin's government for interfering in the U.S. election in 2016.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted today that not having implemented the sanctions by today doesn't mean they won't ever be implemented. But the decision does risk of course adding to the cloud hanging over the White House as President Trump strolls into Congress this evening to tout the growing economy and to try to sell his immigration framework amidst this barrage of questions from Democrats and the media about Russia.
President Trump's speech, we're told, will not mention the investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, lest it distract from his message of unity and the optimism the president wants to project tonight, though the president and his allies have of course also been ramping up their campaign against the Justice Department and the FBI's handling of that probe.
Also likely not to be mentioned this evening, how to handle special counsel Robert Mueller's desire to interview President Trump. The president has contradicted his own lawyers by saying he would like to testify to Mueller under oath, and soon.
But today the former head of his White House transition team, Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, says the president absolutely should not sit down with Mueller.
My panel joins me now to talk about this.
So the president sat down with TV anchors to preview his speech. He did it off the record, but there were a couple parts that they allowed us to make on the record. One of them had President Trump saying -- quote -- "There has been tremendous divisiveness for many years. I would consider it a great achievement if we could make our country united, if I could unite the country."
I guess the big question is, can the president unite the country while also doing things such as attacking the Justice Department, attacking the FBI, et cetera?
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this is really an a la carte menu. It is possible he could unite the country on one or two issues, and not in toto, which I think is probably the future of the American republic.
I'm not sure we get that kumbaya moment.
TAPPER: What do you think about the president saying he would like to united the country?
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would like the see it in his actions more than I would like to see that in his words.
I think the president continues to demonstrate he will say one thing one day and something very different the next day. And the problem is, we don't who know to believe, especially if tomorrow he goes on Twitter and does his usual.
TAPPER: You worked with President Trump. I'm sure you feel he's sincere in his desire. But would you acknowledge that sometimes he does things are not in service to uniting the country?
BRYAN LANZA, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Yes, I would say him uniting the country is very much in his heart.
If you look at what he said just after last year's election, he talked about wanting to be a voice for the vast majority. D.C. is a different animal. It was a different beast he had to conquer, became too aggressive. He got caught up in some of these partisan fights.
But I think at the heart of President Trump, he is sort of agnostic to these partisan battles. He hasn't been having these partisan battles for the last 30 to 40 years. Just three years ago, he was a Democrat. Do I believe it inherently?
LANZA: Yes, I do believe actually believe in heart he wants to unify people.
TAPPER: So obviously President Trump is not the only president to be under the cloud of a special counsel investigation when he gives a State of the Union address.
President Clinton in 1999 made the decision to not mention it at all. President Richard Nixon made a very different decision in his State of the Union address. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate is enough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: "One year of Watergate is enough" getting a lot of applause. I'm sure President Trump would similarly find a lot of applause for one year of Russia-gate is enough.
Do you think she should bring it up?
CARPENTER: I think it would be his impulse to go that direction.
I think it's probably wiser to leave it unsaid. And they do seem to be signaling he wants to give something of a positive and on-script speech. He did it last year successfully.
And I think there is an indication here he does want to concentrate on by the fact he is sort of waiting to actually release the memo until he has his moment. Perhaps that means he is actually not trying to step on his own message tonight.
TAPPER: What would you tell him to do about the Russia investigation? Mention it? Don't mention it?
LANZA: I would say, looking at that video, Richard Nixon resigned, Bill Clinton didn't. I follow the Bill Clinton precedent.
TAPPER: Look at history for precedent. I appreciate it.
(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: He obviously feels like the Russia investigation has gone on long enough. He says it all the time.
RYE: I think he said that from the very beginning, Jake, perhaps before it started, like enough with this Russia stuff.
I think the reality of it is I would be interested to see if he can follow his impulses. Again, maybe he will on prompter, but I doubt it the next day on social media.
TAPPER: Everyone, stay right there.
We're going to go now to the White House for this breaking news.
The White House is pushing back against reporting that President Trump wants that Nunes memo, which is a Republican Intelligence Committee from the House memo detailing alleged abuses by the FBI.
They're pushing back on the idea that the president wants this with Sarah Sanders saying -- quote -- "Contrary to a published report, there are no current plans to release the House Intelligence Committee's memo. The president has not seen or been briefed on the memo or reviewed its contents."
CNN's Jim Sciutto joins me now to explain what is in the memo and what the next steps are -- Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
Well, at least no current plans, it seems. And our Jeff Zeleny reporting that the president has not indeed seen this memo. So what is this memo, right? Let's just be clear here.
It is composed by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, although he also had, you may remember, recused himself from the chairmanship from the Russia investigation a number of months ago because he went down a similar path alleging misuse of unmasking of names captured in communications intercepts.
This current memo is one where he alleges there's evidence that the FBI misused warrants to monitor, surveil people by U.S. intelligence, specifically Carter Page, someone who advised President Trump during his campaign.
You have Democrats and Republicans taking a very different view of this. Many Republicans, including Devin Nunes, saying let's just release this. Let the American public make their own decision, and that there are some concerning things. You have Democrats who say that this memo doesn't tell whole story.
But I think tune that out if you can for a moment and listen to what the Justice Department said in a letter to Devin Nunes last week, just as reminder, again, the Justice Department run by an attorney general appointed by President Trump.
It said, one, they considered it extraordinarily damaging to release this to the public because it gets to some classified issues, how intelligence is gathered, but more importantly the Justice Department said to its knowledge, it is unaware of misuse or abuse of the FISA power.
One report I would make. This is that Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, made to me earlier, is that many of those who have read this memo, and he believes that Devin Nunes, when he composed this memo, had not seen the underlying intelligence behind these warrants that were sought for this surveillance.
That's a point actually the Justice Department made in its letter as well. So, as often, Jake, with issues we talk about relating to intelligence, specifically to the Russia investigation, there are very different views coming from Republicans and Democrats.
But I would just draw attention to what the Justice Department is saying. It's saying it's seen no evidence of abuse.
TAPPER: All right, Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for that news update.
Let's go back to the panel.
I think it is entirely possible there is a possible civil liberties issue with one FISA warrant, one surveillance warrant, that Republicans and others know about, but that it is isolated and not necessarily grounds to undermine the entire Mueller investigation.
And what we have here is different people, different blind men touching an element and reaching different conclusions as to what it is.
CARPENTER: Yes, I think that's the case, but I think that's where we have been for about a year, because what we've been dealing with is selective leaking that is likely politically motivated in many cases.
And we have been trying to put this story together. So I don't really mind information coming out, because we know the motivations of the people involved here pretty clearly.
TAPPER: The Republicans.
CARPENTER: I also wouldn't mind seeing the Democratic version of it.
Will it get to the full truth of what's going on here? No. But it will give more idea from more perspectives. That actually doesn't bother me, especially with it going through this process.
And I will say there are probably civil liberties problems with all of the FISA program and how easy it is to get actually those warrants and how they are used against American citizens. But it should be noted that Republican Congress reauthorized FISA without addressing those things just recently. I'm not sure we're really in those weeds yet.
TAPPER: Look, the FBI -- and God bless the men and women who put their are lives on the line to protect all of us.
But it's not as though abuse of civil liberties never happens. And I don't want to go back to Martin Luther King, but I could if I would. It happens. It happens.
And there are people saying there's an issue here. But by the same token, there are also -- I have spoken with Republicans on the Hill who say there might be an issue. We don't know. But, yes, some people are just going crazy with this and trying to use this to protect the president and just demolish the entire Mueller investigation.
RYE: And I think that's really the bottom line.
The conundrum I'm in, as a very progressive person who was raised by an activist, who still says on the phone, be careful what you say, they're tapping the phone. Sorry, dad, you do it.
But the reality of it is, I'm in this position where I'm kind of having to defend this process thinking about not only the folks who walk in and out of the buildings and do their jobs the right way. This is maddening to me, because, to the point, there are so many pieces tied to Russia. There are so many moving parts. So much confusion.
Just the idea of casting a little bit of doubt causes this huge disruption I think in the minds of the American people, which tremendously undermines an already very shaken democracy. I think that's the real problem here.
TAPPER: What do you make of Sarah Sanders' comment just now that President Trump hasn't made a decision on this Nunes memo, he hasn't seen it, he hasn't reviewed it, when previous reporting has suggested that President Trump wants this out there and supporters of his have been calling for it and he agrees?
LANZA: I'm always skeptical of anonymous sources. I call them anonymous whispers when they're reporting this.
All I can do is point to the statement that Sarah said about the president, where she says he hasn't reviewed it yet. And I bump that against anonymous sources. I put my credibility with the president on this.
TAPPER: I want to read what former FBI Director James Comey tweeted, as our leaders do now. This is what they do.
About Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director who resigned yesterday, apparently under some pressure -- quote -- "Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last 8 months, when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades. I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you."
CNN's reporting suggests that the new FBI director, Chris Wray, saw something he didn't like about McCabe in this inspector general report. This is different and separate than the Nunes report. This is the inspector general report that presumably looks at McCabe's behavior as well, not just during the Trump probe, but potentially the Hillary Clinton probe as well.
CARPENTER: Right. We're bringing together all those pieces again and conflating all this.
Look, first, I'm glad that Comey wasn't quoting himself. We can look forward to that in the future.
TAPPER: He quoted himself in the previous tweet, yes.
CARPENTER: Just to be clear.
I do think the inspector general report is very important, because it might end up being sort of the final arbiter of what went down here that people can actually trust, because generally we do have trust in the inspector general process and that it is that as touched by politics as some of these things have been, either on the Senate side or the House side investigations at this point and even the Mueller investigation.
I'm hoping that we will actually get some clear word from that part of it. And the part where Wray put this out word apparently to the FBI saying, yes, I did see something in there, it's not that there is no there there with McCabe. There may be an issue.
TAPPER: All right, everybody, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about, with former Trump campaign adviser Chris Christie saying the president should not sit down with Robert Mueller at all.
Did Christie forget about his years as a U.S. attorney? Why would anyone leading an investigation like this not want to talk to the man on top? That's next.
Stay with us.
[16:17:32] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.
More breaking news now: "The Washington Post" is reporting the Justice Department's inspector general has been focused on the now gone number two at the FBI, Andrew McCabe, because he appeared not to act for weeks on a request to examine the batch of e-mails found on Anthony Weiner's computer in the latter stages of the 2016 campaign.
McCabe's sudden resignation led to speculation over possibly reasons why he may have left early. And now, I want to get back to the greater Russia investigation.
Joining me now is CNN senior legal analyst Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney of New York.
And, Preet, earlier today after Chris Christie commented and said that he didn't think that President Trump should agree to talk to Robert Mueller in person, you called him out, saying that maybe he forgot about his days as U.S. attorney. Explain what you meant.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Chris Christie was a U.S. attorney for a number of years in New Jersey like I was in the southern district of New York and he knows that in question with an overt investigation, where everyone who knows the participant are, everyone knows who the people with knowledge are, as you get close to the edge, you interview the person who is at the top of the food chain. And sometimes the purpose of that interview is to let that person tell his side of the story, sometimes the purpose of that interview it is to find information about other people and sometimes the purpose of that interview is to see what you can find out about what that person may have done.
It's standard operating procedure, everyone does it. Chris Christie himself, by the way, in addition to having been the U.S. attorney in New Jersey was also at the center of what people called the bridgegate scandal. And he himself was asked for an interview with the FBI and has reported according to what I've seen in the press, sat down voluntarily even though he was the governor of the state. It's what people do.
It would almost be a form of malpractice not to request and not to receive a sit-down with the president of the United States, given how many issues end at his desk and how many things he has knowledge of.
TAPPER: So, Christie's comments seem to be that there's no knowledge of anything that President Trump has alleged to have done. Obviously, what Mueller knows and what we in the public know are two different things. But that seemed to be his argument. Why should the president grant an interview when as far as we know there aren't any charges or allegations against him?
BHARARA: Well, in that same interview, Chris Christie, who used to be a U.S. attorney, then became a governor and is now a commentator, like I suppose I am part-time, also said that one thing he liked being the U.S. attorney, about being the U.S. attorney was that only he knew what he knew.
[16:20:04] So, it seems odd on the one hand for on the one hand for him to say, only Mueller knows what Mueller knows and on the other hand to begin, sort of, you know, blanket advice on whether or not there's evidence that the president did anything wrong and whether or not he should sit down for an interview.
I think Chris Christie knows nothing about what Mueller knows just like you don't and I don't. If there is a request, it seems in interests of finding the truth, for the president to sit down for an interview. By the way, the other thing I'll say on the issue of whether or not
the presidency is different, people like to say this phrase no one is above the law and that the president is not above the law either. But it happens to be the case that the president already does get a lot of special protections. There's an office of legal counsel opinion that a lot of people respect and agree with that stay president can't be legally criminally indicted while he is in office. The president doesn't have the same conflict of interest rules that apply to him.
So, the president has a lot of protection because it is an important office. And it seems to me as an outsider that the mere sitting down of an interview to close out an investigation doesn't seem to affect his ability to do his job.
TAPPER: So, let me ask you just a legal question here. Let's assume there's evidence of potential obstruction of justice. Could Mueller charge the president with obstruction of justice? What would be the next steps in any process?
BHARARA: Yes. So, as I mentioned a second ago, there is, you know, an Office of Legal Counsel opinion. That's a division of the Justice Department. It interprets the law on behalf of the Justice Department.
That has said for a number of years now that because the presidency is different, because of the interference that would be caused by a criminal trial, an elongated process with the commander in chief of the country, that such a prosecution has to wait until the president has left office.
Now, there are some who in recent times make a particular point of view have been making the argument that maybe that's not the case and the Constitution allows the indictment of a president. My own view, knowing Bob Mueller and knowing that there's sort of controversy, although there is a consensus on the one side, but some question over whether or not a sitting president can be indicted, I would not expect even if there's evidence that President Trump obstructed justice, that this particular White House counsel would proceed directly with a charge. According to the mandate that he has --
TAPPER: The special counsel you mean, not the White House counsel.
BHARARA: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. The special counsel Mueller, it is also the case in his mandate that he has to make report to the person who is overseeing him. In this case, the acting attorney general for purposes of the Russia investigation Rod Rosenstein. So, if there's any kind of action taken I think against the president himself, it's my prediction it will be through some of, you know, act of Congress and impeachment proceeding but not by direct indictment.
TAPPER: Sources are telling CNN that the White House could release the Devin Nunes memo, although it's unclear when or whether that's going to happen. But we have been told that the Devin Nunes memo from the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican chairman which the Democrats disagree with, could be released. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he supports the release of this memo. He
raises questions about the actions of the FBI that have been raised in this memo. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: There are legitimate questions about whether an American civil liberties were violated by the FISA process. There may have been malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals. So, it is our job in conducting transparent oversight of the executive branch to get to the bottom of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's your response?
BHARARA: Look, I haven't seen the memo. I don't know what's in the memo. My understanding is it's a memo that was written based on other classified information the author of the memo has also not seen.
What I will say from my perspective as a former United States attorney, when the FBI or some intel agency says in a strong way, we have concerns about classified information being made public, whatever the reasons may be, we take it very seriously. Sometimes, the prosecutors' offices themselves wanted information to be able to come out so you could try, you know, a terrorist or someone accused of espionage in the court. And you have to work that out in the court.
The executive branch is going to be constantly making assertions of classification because they're concerned about national security issues. And so, you know, my observation here is very extraordinary for a congressional committee to look like it's basically ignoring an admonition from the FBI about classification in order to make a political point.
TAPPER: All right. Preet Bharara, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
A startling statement from the head of the CIA about Russia and upcoming elections in the United States. So, why won't the president follow through on punishing Vladimir Putin with overwhelmingly passed sanctions? We'll discuss that next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.
In our politics lead, with the investigation into Vladimir Putin's election interference casting a shadow upon this White House, the Trump administration has said no to new sanctions against Russia as of today that were overwhelmingly passed by Congress. The deadline came and went yesterday, the same time CIA Director Mike Pompeo issued a serious warning about Russian meddling in future U.S. elections.
CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us.
Barbara, what did Director Pompeo have to say?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the timing is so interesting just as the sanctions are being deferred. The CIA director speaking in London made clear that he is now quite concerned that Russia may embark on a new round of election meddling in 2018.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have concerns that they might try and interfere in the U.S. midterms which are coming up?
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Of course, I have every expectation they will continue to try and do that. But I'm confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: Now, this has been a longstanding view by Director Pompeo for several months, that he believes the Russians will try to interfere in the midterm elections, that basically they haven't given up since 2016. No public indication yet of direct evidence.