Return to Transcripts main page
White House Reviewing Controversial GOP Memo on FBI; FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe Steps Down Abruptly; Trump to Deliver First State of the Union Address; White House Reviewing Controversial GOP Memo On FBI; House Intel Votes To Release GOP Memo Alleging FBI Bias; CNN: Wray Hints IG Report Played Role In McCabe's Exit. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired January 30, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:25] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Greetings from Washington. John Berman here.
A major new question emerging this morning. Did we just see the first signs that President Trump will refuse to answer questions in the Russia investigation? Is this an outcome in search of a justification?
Keep that in mind with all the developments surrounding the top secret memo that arrived to the White House by courier from Capitol Hill overnight. It was drafted by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, making the case that the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign was biased and flawed from the start.
The panel voted to make the memo public despite the fact that it's based on classified material and the Justice Department warned against it. But the president has the final word. And he wants it out there so it's a safe bet we will all see this and soon.
But bigger picture, why? Why? Why all this smoke? Well, it's possible we just got an answer a short time ago from a key ally and supporter of the president. Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABS NEWS ANCHOR: Should the president sit down with him face-to-face?
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: No.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not?
CHRISTIE: I don't believe so. Listen, I don't think there's been any allegations -- credible allegations against the president of the United States and I don't think the president of the United States, unless there are credible allegations, which I don't believe there are, should be sitting across from a special counsel.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: So is this just an old friend offering advice in a political vacuum? Is it a coincidence that it happened as Republicans are finding new ways to publicly question the investigation?
These are questions looming over this city and this presidency on what is a momentous day in its own right. The president's first State of the Union address.
We're all over the breaking developments this morning. Let's go first to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill where the controversy over this memo is really at white hot levels -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, you're absolutely right. The president has five days to make a decision on whether or not he'll go forward with the recommendations by the House Intelligence Committee to make this memo public and go against his own Justice Department. All indications are is that yes, he will, in fact, do just that. And really the anger, the toxicity here, the partisanship is palpable here on the Hill.
The House Intelligence Committee voting strictly along partisan lines, party lines. Republicans going forward to release it. Democrats very much against it. That same committee also voting that the Democratic memo by Adam Schiff who actually is counter to the Nunes memo, not be made public at this time. The full House will be able to take a look at his memo. But it is far from clear whether or not it's going to get the same kind of exposure.
So Democrats are crying foul. They say that this has been politicized, this process that this committee no longer has credibility. And that essentially what the -- what the Republicans are trying to do is undermine Mueller's investigation. This from Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: They have crossed from dangerously and recklessly dealing with intelligence to a cover-up of an investigation that they don't want the American people to see come to fruition. What they're putting forth is a total misrepresentation, it is false. And they're putting it out there as if it is factual and then saying, we're going to show this to the American people but we're not going to show the rebuttal to it by the Democrats.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: House Speaker Paul Ryan is also going to weigh in on this later today in a press conference. He has really deferred to Nunes on this and so they are aligned.
And, John, you should also know that there is a division within the Republican Party itself. House Republicans on one side, many Senate Republicans on the other side, expressing more caution, siding with the Justice Department. We heard from two moderate Republicans this morning on CNN, Senator Mike Rounds, calling it bizarre that House Republicans, their own Intelligence Committee, would not share that same memo with the Senate Intelligence Committee. And Senator Susan Collins, definitely against the release -- public release of the memo saying something this important, this investigation should not fall along party lines -- John.
BERMAN: Yes, Suzanne Malveaux, the only Republican that matters right now, though, is sitting in the White House. The president, he wants this memo out. He makes the decision so again chances are we will see it.
Suzanne, great to have you. Thanks so much.
This morning, another big development. We could get more clarity about the abrupt departure of FBI deputy directly Andrew McCabe. We are told that House Democrats may -- may be briefed by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz. He is the man investigating the FBI's actions in the 2016 election, the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, and the first stages of the investigation in a possible Trump campaign connections with Russia.
Joining me now CNN's Kara Scannell.
Kara, what do we know about what we might learn today?
[09:05:03] KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're still waiting to find out if the inspector general will meet with the Democrats. The meeting with Republicans was cancelled yesterday. We've reached out to the inspector general's office this morning and are awaiting word to see if that will still go through. But of course this meeting is of a lot of importance because yesterday when Deputy Director Andy McCabe resigned abruptly, we later learned that Chris Wray, the FBI director, sent an e-mail to the entire staff hinting in a way at what was behind McCabe's sudden exit.
And in that e-mail to the staff, Director Wray said that he was not swayed by politics and he would not comment on the inspector general's report. That led a lot of people to believe that there might be some sort of connection.
Well, sources also tell CNN that McCabe was told by Wray that he was going to bring in his own team. Now McCabe was expected to resign and retire from the FBI after a 20-year career in March. So the exit on Monday was very sudden. A lot of FBI staff found out about it through news reports. And the abrupt nature of it also was a bit reminiscent of when FBI Director James Comey was fired last year while he was out visiting a bureau.
Now last night Comey tweeted his support for McCabe and he said in part, "Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last eight 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."
Now, John, we're told that the White House said that they had no role in McCabe's sudden exit. And we'll wait to see what we learned today from the Hill as the inspector general does meet with the Democrats. BERMAN: All right. Kara Scannell, thank you so much for the update
there. We are watching the developments very closely.
Joining me now, CNN national security commentator and former Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers and CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller, Michael Zeldin.
Gentlemen, I have to say, you know, I've arrived in Washington during political battles and anger before, but this is a new twist. It's not just partisan, it's not just Democrats versus Republicans. But there's this third side, sort of institutionalists saying that what's going on right now is flat-out dangerous.
And I know, Chairman, as a member of the institution as it were, you're deeply concerned right now. Big picture, what's wrong with all this?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, competing memos, competing leaks, competing classified documents that you want documents published over the fact that you don't want other classified documents published, all of that does spell trouble for any credibility in the investigation coming off of Capitol Hill.
Secondly, this wholesale condemnation of wholesale corruption of the FBI and FBI leadership, to me that's really dangerous. You know, when an FBI agent shows up at your door, they tend to be alone a lot of times. When you flip open those credentials, it's the prestige and credibility of the FBI that gets you through that, that makes people want to cooperate with the FBI, it makes people not want to take a shot at you so you can go home to your family at the end of the day and it leads to a much more successful investigation.
You start tarnishing that, it will impact agents in the field. If the Republicans in the House believe that they conspired -- if an FBI agent conspired with his boss, conspired with the legal team, conspired with DOJ to go in front of a judge and lie, that is a serious charge. And they should do a full investigation that we're probably not likely to see in a short memo.
BERMAN: No. It doesn't seem like that's what the memo is. It seems like the memo is drawing conclusions from classified information designed to raise questions, maybe infer what you're suggesting right there but not flat-out state it.
Counsel Michael Zeldin, to you, you know, I asked the question at the beginning, you know, what's going on here, the big picture? Is there an outcome in search of a justification?
We heard Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, a close friend of the president, and by the way, a former federal prosecutor, say that he does not think the president should testify in the special counsel's investigation right now. Is a possible political argument, not legal argument but a political argument that they might use in that to say, hey, look, why wouldn't we testify to this investigation? Look how tainted it is, look at this memo that has now been released to the public about what a mess it is. Why should we be part of that?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's part of the strategy. I think the Nunes memo is designed to undermine the credibility, if there is credibility, in the Steele memorandum which gave rise in part, and only in part, to the FISA warrant. So they want to discredit the Steele memorandum because the Steele memorandum, if provable, says that there's a financial relationship between the Trumps and Russians that date back a long time. That's important on the money laundering component of this. So they need to dirty up that memo.
On the should-he-testify part of it, I think there's clear fear that the president in an interview with prosecutors will not tell a coherent and truthful story, and they're trying to set the groundwork for we don't need to do this, your political point, because there is no there-there.
[09:10:07] The problem of course is that the president has undermined that strategy by saying repeatedly, not only would he want to testify that he would love to testify and under oath. So maybe the lawyers John Dowd said, essentially, in Al Hague style, I'm in charge here.
ZELDIN: I'll make the decision who testifies or not. But ultimately, of course, as lawyers we know, it's the client who makes the final decision. And so Dowd can't overrule his client. And if the client has been on record repeatedly saying there's nothing there, I'd love to testify, I think politically they have a hard time. I think they have a harder time legally, but we can talk about that at another time.
BERMAN: Chairman Rogers, back to the Nunes memo. And put on your partisan hat here as a former Republican chair of the committee. Is there any justifiable reason to release the Republican memo but not the Democratic memo simultaneously? Is there any justification to wait on one other than, hey, the Republicans want theirs out there first?
ROGERS: Well, I try never to wear my partisan hat in the committee spaces.
ROGERS: That is -- it's an important mission for the Congress to be the legitimate oversight of a vast intelligence collection network of the federal government. And when you interject really sharp as partisanship in there bad things can happen. So no, I don't. As a matter of fact, in any investigation, you'd always have dissenting views allowed in the back.
So even if a Republican or a Democrat majority offered a report that had some differences, they allowed members who had differences of opinion to amend these statements to the back so you could at least get a flavor for it. So I really don't think any of this is -- dueling memos is never a good idea. It's always a start for a really bad day.
BERMAN: All right. Mr. Chairman, Counsel, thank you so much for being with us this morning. Obviously a lot to discuss.
Remember all of this is going on as the president is giving a major address tonight. His very first State of the Union address.
CNN's Abby Phillip joins us from the White House for a preview on that -- Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, John. The president's State of the Union address is a key opportunity for him today to refocus the attention of the American public on policy and on the economy and away from these controversies that seem to have been swirling across this administration for the entirety of his first year in office.
Now the White House tells us that the president is going to be focused on five main pillars, including the economy, that tax cut package. He's going to be really emphasizing that, but also trade, the infrastructure plan that he's expected to propose in the coming weeks. National security broadly, threats in Afghanistan and places like North Korea.
And also this deal on immigration that involves the Dreamer children and some curbs on legal immigration that the president has been proposing. At the same time, sort of reinforcing that message is going to be the guests in the first lady's box. There will be about 15 of them, including an ICE agent, law enforcement officers and, you know, the parents of a victim of MS-13 gang violence.
So this is a White House really focusing on some immigration-related threats. And of course this will be the first time that we've seen First Lady Melania Trump in quite a few weeks -- John.
BERMAN: Indeed. All right. Abby Phillip at the White House. Abby, thank you very, very much.
Will House Democrats get more answers -- new answers on why the Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe abruptly stepped down? We're going to talk to a member who may be briefed by the inspector general very shortly.
And critics slamming the administration today for not taking a tougher stance on Russia. The White House holding off on new sanctions despite a law passed to publish Moscow for meddling in the U.S. election.
Plus when this Albuquerque police officer shared his story with CNN he did not know it would lead to an invitation to the State of the Union address. But it did. More on the amazing story of this officer ahead.
[09:18:03] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. In just a few hours, a major speech by the president, his very first state of the union address. Happening now, major Russia headlines.
Let's talk about all of it. Joining me now, Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics" and CNN political commentators, Matt Lewis, Mary Katherine Ham, and Patti Solis Doyle.
Let me play you sound from James Clapper right now, admittedly no fan of the president, but a big fan of institutions in Washington and the security realm. He's concerned this morning about what's going on in this memo world. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: A very negative development for lots of reasons. It represents I think an assault on our institutions, certainly bad for the FBI and the Department of Justice. I shudder to think what the morale of those organizations is right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, Caitlyn, you know, obviously the institutionalists are opposed to it. The Democrats are opposed to it and right now partisan Republicans largely are for it. Where does this go? There's only one outcome I think at this point, which is that the president approves the release and we're all going to see this memo in the next few days.
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Right, exactly. He's been talking about kind of his support of it through Twitter and other statements. You know, I think, of course, Congress has oversight over these agencies, right. I think we all want to be able to hold these agencies accountable.
But partisanship involved in this is really striking especially when you have an IG report going on, investigation going on already, and you do have the president's allies in Congress of the more partisan element really pushing this counternarrative.
You also have kind of on the official Republican side, a lot of Republicans I talk to want to be talking about the economy and things that they can actually tout as accomplishments to kind of over shadow everything else, and that makes this a lot more difficult, especially heading into a midterm.
BERMAN: Jim Jordan was on with CNN overnight. He said this is about transparency. He said this is about letting the light shine in. Let's listen to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[09:20:04] REPRESENTATIVE JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: What I know is, I read it, and there are lots -- we've had lingering questions about this dossier for months. The American people, if they're asking the question, was the dossier used, that's a legitimate question. That's something that needs answered. So, this memo should come out. Let it speak for itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Was the dossier used? Let's be clear. CNN has actually reported that the dossier has been used. The question is, is it the only thing that was used. By all accounts, it wasn't. Leave that aside for a moment, Matt Lewis, you know, the transparency argument from Jim Jordan there, and why not let the Democrats release their memo at the same time? Why not put both memos out there, both versions of the analysis of the same data and let the American people decide?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they should. I think this is probably Republicans making a political, tactical mistake because the whole-- you know, the memo -- premise of the memo is that this is not a partisan tool, this is actually blowing a whistle on some potential problems.
I'm willing to entertain the idea that there are some problems at the FBI. I don't think that -- that alone doesn't make you a conspiracy theorist. It's totally possible, plausible. But when you then deny the Democrats the opportunity to respond in kind, I think it at least creates the impression that this is actually just a political move.
BERMAN: And again, and I go back to Mary Katherine Ham, you know, why now? When I heard Chris Christie this morning and let's just not -- but Chris Christie asked a flat question by George Stephanopoulos, should the president testify to Rob Mueller. He said no. Chris Christie is a friend of the president, a big former prosecutor, too. It's hard for me to believe he says this in a vacuum.
MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. But I also don't know if there's that much strategy surrounding it. I think the lack of vacuum may just be that Christie is advising Trump from the tv, which is something that we see Trump friends do occasionally and he's perhaps trying to exert some influence in that way.
I have a couple of concerns about this. I have concerns about what I think is in some ways by the Trump administration a campaign against the intelligence community. I also have concerns about what has been in some ways a politically motivated, cherry-picked leak campaign that he is right to have a bone to pick about.
So, I don't mind that we might be getting more information here and I think more information would be better. Democrat memo, Republican memo, let us all sort of vet what we're seeing here because that's what we've been doing for years.
We've getting selective intelligence leaked from these investigations. I don't mind seeing more as it comes out through this process. The inspector general report I think is going to be really important because it might be like the arbiter, there's one version of this truth. Let's hear what he has to say. BERMAN: Two points I'll make. Number one, insofar as we think there were massive leaks before and the president might have a legitimate gripe, I don't believe that any of those are coming from the Mueller investigation per se, right?
I totally understand -- but I guess what I'm saying is, if you are turning your gripe about that into an attack on Robert Mueller and the special counsel's investigation, you're doing it for a different reason.
MARY KATHERINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the motivations are different. But as somebody who is like a civil libertarian on these issues, I have concerns about how we do spying on American citizens, and I've had those for a long time.
By the way, one of the reasons I have concerns about that, it must be said, Mr. Clapper who admitted that he told Congress lies about what we were doing surveilling the American public, that's a real concern. I would like to know what went into FISA warrant.
BERMAN: I want to rewind what Mary Katherine said about the inspector general investigation, which I think is a really potentially big deal, which could reframe how we look at this discussion. We understand Christopher Wray, one of the reasons he pressured Andy McCabe to go out or maybe move to a different job that McCabe wouldn't take is because of concerns about the outcome of this investigation. If this investigation comes out, Patti, and says that McCabe acted improperly, is it justified then to move him?
PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I want to wait for the inspector general. That's the vehicle where all this information should come out. I have some problems with what happened in 2016 too. You know, clearly, Comey reopening the investigation 10 days before the election?
I had a problem with that. Not making the active investigation into the Trump campaign while the campaign was going on public like they did the Clinton investigation? I have a problem with that, too. Let the inspector general do their investigation, let's find out what they have to say. That's the proper vehicle.
Not this -- we know the Nunes memo, we know the motivation. It's to lay the groundwork to discredit whatever conclusion Mueller comes up with at the end of his investigation. That's been going on for months. Trump started it with his tweets, echoed by Republicans in Congress, echoed by Fox News and this constant drum beat.
But now they've taken it to a different level, a dangerous level where they're putting our national security at risk. That's just let the inspector general do this. We all have questions about what happened in 2016. Let's wait for that report.
[09:25:12] BERMAN: You have Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney who does some work with us. He has commented on what Chris Christie said. This is what Preet says, "Reminder that Governor Christie is a former U.S. attorney. If he were in charge of such an investigation, there is no universe in which he would not seek a Trump interview."
I think Preet Bharara is right and I think Chris Christie would agree with that also. But Governor Chris Christie, now former U.S. Prosecutor Chris Christie is making the case that the president shouldn't testify. And again, Caitlin, it's hard for me to imagine that Chris Christie is freelancing on this.
HUEY-BURNS: Right, exactly. Well, and Trump has said himself that he wants to testify, but then his lawyers kind of saying, well, we're working out the parameters of what this discussion would be like.
Back to Patti's point about why this all matters and back to the president, people being concerned about the president speaking up either in this interview or speaking up in general, I mean, the FBI -- you know, Christopher Wray has the right to have people in his orbit that he selects because he's now the FBI director.
The problem is that when the president is consistently weighing in against McCabe, it kind of creates this whole political problem of, OK, well why now, right. Why are you making these changes now?
Again, if the president I think was kind on the sidelines on this and let this all played out, it would probably actually work in his favor because there would be a new kind of wave coming in.
BERMAN: He fired James Comey. Andy McCabe is gone. He tried to fire Robert Mueller or asked that he fired. If you look at this, it doesn't seem like he is happy with the people who have run various parts of the Russia investigation.
And again, you go back to the question of why isn't he happy? There's a why today, too, Matt Lewis. The president and the administration did not levy new sanctions on Russia. Russia meddled in the U.S. election. Congress nearly unanimously passed these laws to put new sanctions on.
The White House found a way out of thing out. We don't need sanctions because our sternly worded letter is having the effect. That's what the State Department and Treasury Department say. Well, Mike Pompeo, who is the current CIA director, he has a different view of what Russia is doing. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Russians have a long history of these information campaigns. That part of it is not new. The technology that enables it is now cheap and plentiful, and the capability of transferring information around the world is much simpler than it was in World War II or decades ago. This threat is not going to go away. The Russians have been at this a long time and I fully expect they'll continue to be at it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: I fully expect they'll continue to be at it. It seems to be a different message than our threat of sanctions, even though we're not issuing sanctions, are working.
LEWIS: Yes. And of course, it's curious why is it that Donald Trump and the Trump administration isn't doing this? You know, there's different answers to that. The most cynical answer would be that Trump has been compromised.
There's also the notion that Donald Trump has always kind of liked Russia for whatever reason, whether it's an admiration for authoritarians, maybe just a naive belief that it's western civilization which I don't think Russia is a part of, but western civilization versus ISIS as a dominant new paradigm.
I think you could make a good argument, though, that if Donald Trump really were worried about the Russia investigation, he would do the opposite. He would overcompensate by going after Russia. So, I don't know that this tells us much except that the only thing it tells me is that Donald Trump I think still doesn't grasp the importance of Russia.
HAM: What I know for sure is that it never hurts to do a screening of "Rocky 4."
BERMAN: I will break you. With that, a reminder to watch tonight's prime time coverage of the "State of The Union" address. It all starts at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
So why did the deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe step down so quickly? House Democrats might soon find out.
Also, we're moments away from the opening bell. This is an unusual sight this last month or so. Markets set to open lower, one day after the Dow posted the worst drop in nearly five months. The president set to tout the economy tonight, pushing a new infrastructure plan. You can bet investors will be watching.