Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Speaker Ryan: Nunes Memo should be Released; Source: President Trump "Very Likely" to Release Memo; FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe Steps Down Abruptly; House GOP Leadership Speaks ahed of State of the Union. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 30, 2018 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone, John Berman here in Washington. Just hours from the president's first State of the Union Address.

But the breaking news is this. House Speaker Paul Ryan is speaking right now to reporters. He will answer questions very, very shortly. He says that the Republican memo produced by the House Intelligence Committee, he is in favor of releasing it. This memo, of course, alleges FBI abuses, but in a twist, the House speaker says he wants members to keep it separate from the special counsel's investigation. Don't use it to criticize Robert Mueller.

The memo, now in the hands of the president who has made it very clear that he wants this memo released. This morning, a source familiar with the president thinking tells CNN it is very likely he will release it, no surprise there. This is happening in the midst of the former deputy FBI director Andy McCabe announcing he's leaving. The Democrats in the House may be briefed very shortly by the Justice Department, inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who was investigating FBI activity in the 2016 election, both the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and the early stages of the Russia investigation.

Joining me now, CNN's Kara Scannell for an update on that. Kara?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. So we're still waiting word to see whether the IG will meet with Democrats on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees following the meeting that was canceled with the Republicans yesterday. We reached out to the Inspector General's Office this morning and they're declining comment. So we'll have to stand by and see if that meeting does take place.

Of course, the inspector general's report is looming in the backdrop of McCabe's abrupt exit. We know that FBI director Christopher Wray sent an e-mail to the FBI staff yesterday in which he hinted that the IG report may have played a role. According to sources who saw the e- mail, Wray wrote that he would not comment on the IG report and said he would not be swayed by politics. Of course, McCabe's exit was a surprise to many staffers who learned about it from news reports. McCabe had a planned retirement that was scheduled for March. And instead he left suddenly.

What we also know is that the sources tell us that McCabe felt that pressure from Wray because he was bringing in his own team. And so that was part of the reason for the sudden exit. It is also reminiscent of James Comey's exit when he was abruptly fired as FBI director while he was on the road visiting the field office in Los Angeles.

And last night Comey tweeted out his support of McCabe, someone who he's worked alongside with for a long time. In the tweet, Comey said, "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."

Now, the White House, John, has not really commented on McCabe's exit other than to say that they did not play a role in the decision.

BERMAN: All right, Kara Scannell for us covering that angle, thank you so much. Kara, as we await Speaker Paul Ryan who will answer questions from reporters any minute.

I'm joined by Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Great to see you in person, I know you're surprised how tall I am when you finally meet me.

Congressman, we just did hear -- reporters heard earlier from House Speaker Paul Ryan who is in favor of releasing the memo from your committee. I don't think that is a surprise. Because I don't think it wouldn't have been released without his support. But the other thing he said is more nuanced. He says he doesn't want it used as a means to criticize Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. The two need to be kept separate. How is that possible?

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I agree with speaker. They should be kept secret. And I think they will be kept -- I'm sorry, separate, I think they will be kept separate.

Look, Mr. Mueller is continuing his investigation. I support that. I want him to continue. I think the House has a responsibility to do what we have been doing and from time it time report the findings and the things we think are important. And we have to be able to separate those. But, look, we can't subordinate ourselves from Mr. Mueller, we can't say, well, he's doing his investigation therefore we're just going to pause. I don't think that's appropriate either.

BERMAN: One of the things that is allegedly in the memo, I haven't seen it, you obviously have, is criticism of Rod Rosenstein for recommending the extension of a FISA warrant. Rosenstein of course oversees Bob Mueller right now. He oversees the special counsel investigation. So if you're going to criticize Rod Rosenstein for something in this memo, how do you keep it separate?

[10:05:08] STEWART: Well, when you see the memo, and I hope you see it very quickly. We don't point fingers at Mr. Rosenstein or any one individual. We are very analytical, very factual. It's not an emotional document, as we said, we don't accuse. We just lay out the facts and he's not identified with any specificity at all.

But you know if I could talk about Mr. Comey's remarks, because I think it kind of ties in here, it is important to note. He talks about small people who are trying to tear down the FBI. That's not what we're trying to do at all. The FBI is full of public servants, we recognize that. But we have to be able to hold some people accountable. If they have done something that we think is inappropriate and wrong. That's all we're trying to do here.

BERMAN: Well, look, I don't know who he's talking about specifically when he says small people, do you think a small person would, you know, talk about Andy McCabe and note that his wife was running an election, things that the president has done, directly criticizing the deputy director for something his wife did.

STEWART: It depends, is it relevant? That's the question. Is it relevant? Is it important? Do you think it is relevant that Mr. McCabe's wife was given hundreds of thousands of dollars and then by a Clinton supporter and the he was -

BERMAN: Do you think it is relevant?

STEWART: I think it is. Now, how important it is I think is probably in the eye of the beholder. But it is certainly a fact toward -

BERMAN: Do you think it is relevant - do you think it is relevant who Andy McCabe voted for in the last election?

STEWART: No, I wouldn't suggest that.

BERMAN: So, when a small person, again I'm just putting myself in James Comey's shoes. When a small person asked Andy McCabe who he voted for in the last election -

STEWART: I don't know. I'm not familiar with that. Are you saying someone who -

BERMAN: Well, look, it is reported that the president asked Andy McCabe who he voted for in the last election, and then went on to criticize the fact that -- all I'm saying is I don't know who James Comey was calling a small person. It may very well be that he's raising that to talk about the president.

STEWART: Well, I think that the more overarching concern is this. No agency is above any questioning. You can't say -- you can't go after the FBI. Look, we understand they're important. But no agency is above reproach. And if people have done things inappropriate, we have should know that.

BERMAN: So congressional oversight is vital -- oversight from congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats. Democrats have now written their own version of a memo. Why not release them at the same time?

STEWART: Well, we'll go through the same process. And that's the important thing to note here. We allowed ours to be read. We allowed the House to see it for a period of time. We'll do the same thing with Democratic memo. We'll allow the FBI to come in and vet it. And that's important. We did have Mr. Wray come in with two individuals. And we asked them, is there anything factually inaccurate? Anything that reveals national security - I can tell you this. Having read the Democratic memo, it's going to have to be redacted. It is much longer. It's much more detailed. There are things in there we cannot release.

BERMAN: Why not wait? I want to do two things here. Why not wait? Why not in the interest of bipartisanship and to lift any cloud that what you're doing is partisan or what they're doing is partisan, why not wait and release them at the same time?

STEWART: Well, once again, I think we'll apply the same process -

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- releasing at the same time?

STEWART: If the timing doesn't work - I do think this, as time goes by, it won't matter at all that one memo was released one week or -

BERMAN: I don't believe that. If it is out there for a week by itself, you know, with you speaking on one side and -- the evidence that exists on paper from the Democrats to rebut it, not saying it is true or not, not being released, how is that fair?

STEWART: Well, I think they're going to have the opportunity to rebut it. And in the big picture, months from now, again, a few days here or there isn't going to matter. We'll lay out our facts. They can make arguments. And by the way, why would they not -

BERMAN: Would it matter? If you're saying it wouldn't matter -- the day's difference wouldn't matter, would it matter a few days to release yours?

STEWART: Well, I understand why you're saying that, I do. I'm just saying I think we follow the same process. We'll follow the same process with theirs.

BERMAN: Christopher Wray looked at this with two deputies. Adam Schiff last night indicated that the FBI director wanted to be able to speak to your whole committee after that fact but was not given that opportunity. The chairman said no. Is that true?

STEWART: We've had ample opportunities to speak to the FBI director on multiple things about multiple topics, including -

BERMAN: Is that true? Did he ask to speak to the whole committee and was he granted that permission?

STEWART: No, that's not true at all. We'll have Mr. Wray come before the committee frequently.

BERMAN: Before the release of this memo?

STEWART: No, I don't believe that is true. BERMAN: OK.

STEWART: Now, I wasn't in the meeting. But I don't believe that is true. I don't believe he at all said we want to speak to the committee before we release the memo.

But there is one other thing that is kind of an appendage to that, it is worth noting. I have been accused as have been other Republicans in very personal ways saying you're endangering national security by releasing this memo. That's absolutely nuts. You see my father's Air Force wings, I was in the Air Force. I have members in my family that are deployed right now to think that I would endanger national security for political purposes are just silliness. But that's what many of them are saying. We just want the American people to know.

BERMAN: Have you seen all the classified intelligence that has gone into the drafting of this memo?

STEWART: 90 something percent of this memo is not based on any underlying documents, but it's based on testimony before the committee.

[10:10:02] BERMAN: Have you seen the classified information, the other 10 percent?

STEWART: No, I haven't. But it is not relevant to our memo. That's what I'm saying. The memo is based on testimony before the committee. Those other things we had staff go look at it, because as you know it was restricted. We had them report what that information was, and -

BERMAN: The FISA stuff, the FISA warrants, I imagine, right?

STEWART: Well, and other things.

BERMAN: But the FISA warrants are a big part of your conclusion. You have not seen that classified information yourself?

STEWART: But the presumption is we haven't seen that classified information. Therefore, our memo is faulted in some way. That's not true. Again, 90 percent of the memo is based on testimony before our committee. There is a small portion that is based on other information. We ask our staff to review that because we weren't allowed to at that point. They report back on what that is and then we integrate that into the memo.

We don't -- look, I can't see all of this information. There is tens of thousands of pages of it. You have to be able to rely on staff and others to evaluate -

BERMAN: And just to be clear, you're saying your father is in the Air Force, you were in the Air Force, I don't think any was questioning your patriotism there.

You know what, House Speaker Paul Ryan speaking right now. Let's listen to what the speaker says.

STEWART: Thank you.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is the Department of Defense funding that equips our service members with the resource they need to protect our country and the threats that it faces.

This is not the first time the House has voted on this bill. This is not the second time the House has voted on this bill. This is the third time the House has voted to fund our military. You heard it from Paul Cook straight. Why is this the third time that the House will have voted to fund our military? Because the Senate Democrats continue to hold that funding hostage. They threaten to filibuster this legislation, which makes it impossible for the Senate to pass and for the president to sign it into law. Senate Democrats are playing politics with defense spending that is so vital to our national security needs.

So, we just don't see this as irresponsible -- it's dangerous. You do have training accidents happening more and more these days. We had more people die in training accidents last year than died in combat last year. So, these CRs -- the reason we're having all of these CRs is because of these filibusters of these vital appropriation bills.

So, as we saw last week in Paul's district, the consequences are very real. Our men and women in uniform, they depend upon these resources to keep themselves safe and to keep us safe. So I urge the Senate Democrats to do the right thing. Drop the filibuster, process the legislation. We want to find a DACA solution, we will find a DACA solution, so don't hold our military funding hostage for this. Let's move forward.

On a positive note, I am excited to hear President Trump's State of the Union Address tonight. And honestly, the State of the Union is looking up. It's really encouraging to be able to come and hear an upbeat tone in the State of the Union. This will be my 20th of these that I've sat in, and I've got to tell you, to be able to hear a State of the Union as bright as it is right now is something that's very encouraging.

Wages are rising. Economic confidence is coming back to America. Tax reform is now the law of the land, and it is playing a huge role in this transformation. As Steve just mentioned, just yesterday we heard from another major employer about investing another $50 billion into this economy because of tax reform. Just a couple of weeks from now, 90 percent of American workers, 90 percent of American wage-earners are going to see their paychecks get bigger as the IRS new withholding tables are put into effect in February. This is a big deal.

Look, Janna and I were working the concession stand at our parish on Sunday for our kids' basketball games, and a friend of mine who works at the Home Depot in Janesville could not wait to come up and tell me about the bonus that he had gotten, about the wage increase that he had gotten, what it's going to do for his life. You know, wherever you go, you have people coming up to you saying, 'This is a new car payment for me.' This is working.

Those of us who have worked on this issue for so many years thought and suspected was, if we do tax reform in America the right way, it will unlock a lot of economic potential. It is unlocking so much more economic potential than we even imagined. So we're very excited. Economic confidence in America is at a 17-year high while unemployment in America is at a 17-year low. These are good things.

This is a big deal for Americans across the country. We've got a lot more work to do, and I am looking forward to President Trump's speech tonight to find a way forward and get more done for the American people in 2018.

RYAN: Questions. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Regarding the Nunes memo, why is it OK for Republicans in the House to release the Republican memo and not the same time as the Democratic memo to give the America public a full picture, both sides, of the argument that is underlying this intelligence?

RYAN: Manu, what' OK is we have to follow the process as the process is laid out and that's precisely what is happening. I would remind you that the Democrats tried blocking the rest of the members of Congress from even having access to the memo that the majority wrote. Yesterday, the majority voted to provide access to the Democrats memo. The process is this. It is an 11g process. You probably all reported on it, which is a memo get released to the broader members.

[10:15:02] They read it, then you go and scrub to make sure that no sources and methods are being compromised and then you go through the process of releasing it.

The majority's memo already went to that process. That process is underway. This memo that we just got popped on us yesterday is now going through that process. And I would just tell you, unlike the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, who voted to deny access to this memo to the broader members, Republicans supported doing so. So now -- Devin actually made the motion. So now it will go through that 11g process just like this other memo did.

RAJU: Why not hold back? Why not hold that back and release it at the same time?

RYAN: Yes, the -- as Kevin was mentioning, the chairman went to the FBI to go through the memo to make sure that we were protecting any sources and methods and we're confident that we are. None of that work has been done on this new memo that no one has yet read, but the Republicans voted to allow the rest of the members to read it so that it can go through the process.

RAJU: Why not hold back?

RYAN: You've asked enough.

QUESTION: Why not ask the Republicans to wait and release their memo at the same time as Democrats release theirs to -

RYAN: Look, we're going to go through the process as the process is laid out and it is ironic that the majority voted to actually give access to this memo while the minority voted to deny that access. So I think the irony is a little rich here these days. Casey?

QUESTION: Based on what you learned on this memo, do you believe the FBI and the DOJ used their power in a partisan way?

RYAN: Let me make four points here. I think there are -- as we think about all of this. I actually wrote some of this down. First, there are legitimate questions about whether American civil liberties were violated by the FISA process. We are the legislative branch of government. It is our job to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people of the executive branch in case any powers were abused and civil liberties are abused by the executive branch. So there is a very legitimate issue here as to whether or not an American civil liberties were violated in the FISA process. That's point number one.

Point number two. This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller's investigation. And his investigation should be allowed to take its course. Point number three, there may have been malfeasance by people at the FBI. And -- let me just finish my point. 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. (INAUDIBLE) is the best disinfectant. And so, what we want is all of this information to come out, so that transparency can reign supreme and accountability can occur.

There is a fourth point I want to make. And that is the institution of the DOJ, of the FBI is very important institution for American life. It is a very important institution for keeping the rule of law intact. The men and women -- the vast number of the men and women over at DOJ, over at FBI, are professionals doing their jobs and doing their jobs well. The people over in the field office in Milwaukee, the FBI office, are helping keeping heroin and opioids out of our schools.

So we want the people of the FBI to know that we respect their job. We respect who they are and what they do. And all of the more reason why we need to have transparency and accountability to hold people accountable if they violated the rules, if they acted in a wrong improper way. And that is what we're doing here.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) All the other conclusions that are being drawn by this investigation in the House are being held until the end. Why is it important to get this conclusion -

RYAN: It would have been great to have all the documents that we requested months ago but we did not. So as you know, the Congress has been asking for all of these documents from the executive branch so that we can do the executive branch oversight. It is the inspector general who just told us a couple of days ago that all of a sudden they found the 5,000 text messages that were lost. So it would be nice if all of this information that Congress had requested would have been delivered when we asked for this stuff last August. So we have not been getting the information until fairly recently. That is why this is taking so long.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last question. QUESTION: There has been some reporting that the president wants to fire deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. Do you think that would be a wise decision?

RYAN: I think Rod Rosenstein is doing a fine job. I have no reason to see why he would do that. Rod Rosenstein was hired after this last election. I think the people at the FBI, at the DOJ, need to clean their own House if there are problems in their own House and I think that's really important. He came in after this last election.

BERMAN: All right. You've been listening to House Speaker Paul Ryan there. Last question means last question. Paul Ryan spoke out in support of releasing this memo from the House Intelligence Committee. And he said a number of things, which are quite interesting. He says that an American civil liberties might have been violated in the FISA process. He also said that there may have been malfeasance at the FBI.

[10:20:05] Chris Stewart, Republican Congressman from Utah, has been watching this with me. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee. And I know you have to run, so let me just ask you about one of those things that he said, which was pretty startling, there may have been malfeasance at the FBI?

STEWART: Yes, no question about that. That's why we feel it is so important to release this information to the American people. And it doesn't matter who they're targeting, a political figure, private citizen, we all have those -- the expectation of privacy and our civil rights would be defended and, again, that's why we want to share this with the American people.

BERMAN: What is this malfeasance?

STEWART: Well, when we see the memo, I think it's going to give you some insight into that. And by the way, this memo isn't the last you're going to hear about this. We're going to have to report to the American people more broadly as well. I think this is the first installment of us being able to say to the American people, these are our concerns, these are the individuals that we're concerned with, and this is how we think it should be fixed.

BERMAN: We're talking about the text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page -

STEWART: No.

BERMAN: He's not even talking about Andy McCabe, malfeasance - alleged malfeasance - talking about James Comey.

STEWART: Well, look, imagine this. Imagine as I alluded to earlier, imagine that you had a political party pay for a dossier, use foreign agents to collect that information, and did the -- question is this, this is what the memo I think centers on, did the FBI exercise due diligence and judgment in evaluating that dossier? Were they honest in how they presented that information before the FISA courts? Did they cast aspirations on people? In some cases, accusing them of actually traitorous activity with legitimate evidence, those are the questions that we're trying to answer.

BERMAN: And I know you have to run. Is the answer to that question in your mind no?

STEWART: There is very, very, deep concerns right now.

BERMAN: Chris Stewart of Utah. Thanks so much for being with us. I know we kept you a lot longer than your schedule. Appreciate it.

Joining me to discuss this further, Kaitlan Collins is at the White House, Manu Raju standing by for us on Capitol Hill. Kaitlan, you know, first to you, we have an update on the status of this memo, the president has to approve its release, but that seemed like a foregone conclusion frankly a while ago.

KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. The president is very likely to advocate for the release of this memo to release it. A source familiar with his thinking tells me. And that comes after the memo is brought over here to the White House last night after the House Intelligence Committee voted on it. But it is still unclear if the president has even actually seen this memo yet. So even though he's advocating for its release, he's ready to release it, it is unclear if the president has even read it yet. We know he has five days to review it, to decide if he wants to release it fully, to take some parts out of it or not release it at all. But right now, we're told that the president is very likely to release this memo here, John.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan at the White House, thanks so much. One other thing, you know, Manu Raju joins me now. Congressman Chris Stewart on Intelligence Committee, the president hasn't seen the memo. Chris Stewart just told me he hadn't seen the underlying classified intelligence that went into the memo. He says that's not the majority of what's in there, but it is interesting, different people haven't seen different parts of this. Manu, you're at that news conference right there. Paul Ryan went in with a list of points he wanted to make on this memo. That was very interesting.

RAJU: Yes. Clearly was prepared for that question. You knew this was going to dominate this news conference. Trying to make the case that, look, there may have been some malfeasance at the FBI, if there was some that they need to figure out a way to move forward. But he also was prepared to defend this process, the process of giving -- getting -- allowing the Republican memo, the Nunes memo, to be released before the Democratic memo has been released.

I tried to ask him at the beginning of this news conference why is it OK to move forward with the Republican memo but not the Democratic memo and not give the American public two points of view about the underlying intelligence? His argument is that this is the normal process. Full House gets a chance to read this memo in a classified setting and then the committee can agree to vote to release it publicly. And that's going to take some time.

But I would add, John, this is actually the first time in the committee's existence that this rule has been used. 40 years this rather obscure rule has not been used by this committee to declassify information and allow the president, give the president an opportunity to object or allow for its release. So there is no normal process here. And we try to pin him down about exactly why not hold back on the Republican memo, allow the Democratic memo to come back at the same time.

He tried to make the argument that look we just got the Democratic memo. People are just reading it now. And they try to make the case that they're the ones being transparent because they voted to release the memo while Democrats on the other hand tried to block the memo. Not a real clear answer from the speaker about why not hold back the memo's release, release them both at the same time, but clearly that's one line of argument, they have to defend going forward, and allowing one point of view to help drive a narrative with the American public about exactly what happened here.

[10:25:00] But clearly, John, Paul Ryan sees some wrongdoing here, although he did not want to seem to want to pin the blame on Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who has been singled out in this memo. He said he's doing a good job and does not think it would be necessarily wise for the president to get rid of Rosenstein, even though Rosenstein will come under probably considerable pressure if this memo becomes public.

BERMAN: He said there may have been FBI malfeasance. He said American civil liberties may have been violated. Those are significant charges. He also said there is irony in asking to wait to release the Democrats memo at the same time, significant statements from Paul Ryan. Manu Raju, thank you very, very much. Appreciate you being there for us.

Some Democrats now saying that they don't want to, quote, "honor the president" by attending the State of the Union Address. They say that the president is destructive and divisive, but is their action, not showing up, is that too divisive? I'm going to speak with the Democratic Congressman who plans on skipping the speech.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)