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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
FBI, DOJ Warn W.H. As Trump Indicates He Will Release Memo; W.H. Officials, Nunes Memo Would Be Released As Early As Thursday; Sources: Trump Asked Rosenstein If He Was "On My Team"; Exclusive: Agent Who Sent Texts Mocking Trump Co-Wrote Draft Letter Reopening Clinton Email Probe; Interview with Congressman Lee Zeldin of New York; U.S. Military Defense System Fails to Intercept Incoming Test Missile. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired January 31, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:08] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: "OutFront" next breaking news, the President asks Rod Rosenstein, the man in charge of the Russia investigation, if he's on his team. Plus the clock is ticking on the President, will he release the Nunes memo against the wishes of his own FBI director.
And FBI slammed for text messages that showed anti-Trump bias. CNN has learned he played a major role in reopening the Clinton investigation just days before the election. Let's go "OutFront".
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. "OutFront" tonight the breaking news, Trump versus the FBI, a rare warning from FBI Director Christopher Wray. Wray telling the President not to release the Republican memo alleging abuse at the highest levels of the FBI, abuse of surveillance during the Trump campaign.
Wray warning and I quote, "We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy." These coming hours after the President said he will 100 percent release the controversial GOP memo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JEFF DUNCAN, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's release the memo.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't worry, 100 percent. Can you imagine?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And the President chief of staff, John Kelly, earlier today said the memo's release is a fada (ph) complete.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I'll let the experts decide that when it's released. But this President, again, so unique, Brian, that he wants everything out, so the American people can make up their own minds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: President Trump let's keep in mind just three days to make up his mind formally to stop the partisan memo's release or plowed his handpicked FBI director, as you just heard his chief of staff, make it clear, it didn't seems he's likely to do.
To be clear, the GOP memo that we're talking about is three and a half pages. It is a highly partisan summary written by one of President Trump's top allies in Congress. After all, a rival Democratic memo reaches a very different conclusion. And Nunes' three and a half pages are based on extensive classified background material that few people have seen, including Devin Nunes himself. By the way, the guy who, you know, puts his name on the summary, he never saw the material upon which it is based.
As for the FBI, it has been fighting the release of the GOP memo and of all that classified information the memo cherry picks from in its attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation. And when it comes to that background material, that crucial background material here, both Democrats and Republicans have taken the FBI's side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TREY GOWDY, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The President can declassify it. My counsel to him is, "Don't do it." I do nothing to jeopardize sources and methods, do nothing to jeopardize the women and men in the intelligence community.
BURNETT: So if they were to declassify the source documents you would be fine with it? Because then people think --
REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I don't think I would be fine because -- that leave that up to the CIA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Now more breaking news this hour, CNN is learning that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of Mueller in Russia investigation, met with the President and begged him to stop. House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes from demanding all of that classified background material that eventually turned into this memo. It was in that very meeting that Trump asked Rod Rosenstein if he was, "on my team." That meeting between Trump and his deputy attorney general is crucial.
Evan Perez is breaking that story tonight. Even, obviously this is a crucial meeting when it comes to this memo and to the background material. This is crucial background material upon which it is based. What are you learning about the context of this question when the President said, "Are you on my team?"
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well the context of this, Erin is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to the White House in December seeking the President's help to block the document demands from the House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes.
Sources familiar with the meeting tell us that the President had other things on his mind ahead of Rosenstein's upcoming testimony before at House Committee. The President asked Rosenstein where he thought the investigation between links -- the links between Russians and his campaign was headed, and he went on to ask whether Rosenstein was, "On my team."
Now, the exchange could raise questions as to whether President Trump was looking to interfere with that Mueller investigation, which is looking of course into potentially illegal coordination by the Trump campaign, and obstruction of justice by this White House, Erin.
BURNETT: So, Evan, obviously, you know, we know the former FBI Director Jim Comey testified to Congress that the President asked him for a loyalty pledge, is how he talked about it.
BURNETT: Did Rosenstein this -- think this was a similar question? I mean, are you on my team?
PEREZ: Right. It's not clear. But we're told that Rosenstein's definitely appeared surprised by the President's question. He didn't 2provide any details on the direction of the Russia investigation and he responded sort of awkwardly about, you know, to the President's team request. He said, "Of course we're all on your team, Mr. President."
Now, during the House hearing shortly after the White House meeting that we're talking about, Rosenstein was asked by lawmakers about loyalty pledges. Listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[19:05:08] REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Is it ever appropriate for the President of the United States to demand the Department of Justice official or FBI director take a loyalty pledge?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't have any opinion about that, Congressman, nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge other than the oath of office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: And we know from -- also at that hearing, Rosenstein was asked about whether or not, you know, whether or not there was any indication of when he had this loyalty pledge, whether that conflicted with his oath of office. He said he did not see that. By the way, we reached out to the White House and the Justice Department, both of them had declined to comment so far.
BURNETT: So obviously this is all important, Evan, and your reporting is also showing that the President did seem very focused on that December hearing that Rod Rosenstein where he, you know, where he was asked about whether he had been asked for a loyalty pledge. Why was the President so focused on the hearing?
PEREZ: Right. That's right. The President brought up the upcoming hearing during that White House meeting. One source told us that Trump went so far as to suggest questions to members of Congress that they could ask Rosenstein.
One line of inquiry that Trump was asking lawmakers to ask about was whether Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate this Russian meddling in the 2016 election because Mueller was not chosen as FBI the director. Remember, he interviewed for the job.
It doesn't appear by the way, Erin, that the questions of the President tried to plant with member of Congress were actually asked at the hearing, Erin.
BURNETT: Obviously, which is important that they did not go ahead and do that but, of course, his requesting is significant. Thank you so much, Evan Perez. And as Evan's reporting, the very reason Rosenstein was at the White House the day the President asked him if he was on his team was to get the President to help him, to help him to fight off demands from Devin Nunes for that classified information that Nunes' team ended up using to write the memo. It is that memo that is causing a potential war between the White House and the FBI, which is now become highly public.
Jim Sciutto is "OutFront" in Washington. And, you know, Jim, this is pretty stunning, just the public nature of this that we are seeing. The White House and the FBI right now on opposite sides.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. And let's take for a moment out the Republican and Democrat views of this. Clearly, there is divide on that.
SCIUTTO: But this is about agency, the bureau versus the White House on this, and mind you an agency run by Christopher Wray, a director chosen by the President to replace the director he fired, James Comey.
The agency that the bureau, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, saying that this document not it just -- it shouldn't be released because it's classified, it says it's flat out inaccurate, right?
SCIUTTO: And it's not alone in that. The Department of Justice which oversees the Federal Bureau of Investigation also run by a Trump appointee, and Jeff Sessions mind you sent a letter to Nunes last week saying that it sees no evidence of abuse of the FISA warrant powers.
In addition to that, I spoke to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who believe that releasing this memo does pose a risk to classified information because it reveals how these surveillance decisions are made. So those are three agencies run by appointees of this President who are telling this President not to release this memo. BURNETT: All right, obviously crucial. Thank you very much, Jim Sciutto.
And with all this breaking news, let's go now to the Democratic Senator Chris Coons. He is a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committee. Senator, I appreciate your time. Your committee, of course, oversees the Department of Justice which means you oversee Rod Rosenstein. Do you have a problem if he was asked by President Trump whether if he's quote on his team?
SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Absolutely. This is just another example of President Trump failing to understand and failing to respect long standing norms. The Department of Justice is not on any President's team. The Department of Justice is charged with defending the constitution and enforcing the law.
So their role in our society is ensuring that no one is above the law, and that means staying away from very complicated and politically fraught conversations like this where the President inappropriately, immorally, and in fact perhaps illegally, pressed Rod Rosenstein whether he is on his team or not.
This is exactly the sort of thing that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would be looking for in an investigation into potential obstruction of justice.
BURNETT: Now, Senator, former FBI Director Jim Comey said Trump asked him directly for his loyalty, so certainly there is a pattern here. But is asking if his own Justice Department is quote on this okay?
The reason I ask you that, Senator, is when then Attorney General Eric Holder was asked if he was planning on leaving the Obama administration in 2013 he responded, and I quote Eric Holder, "I'm still enjoying what I'm doing, there's still work to be done. I'm still the President's wing-man, so I'm there with my boy." Wing-man, there with my boy, I mean, isn't that a loyalty pledge?
COONS: You raise a good point, Erin, that those are expressions by the former attorney general that suggests the closeness, partnership, but we're in a very different context here now.
[19:10:07] Rod Rosenstein is supervising Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is leading a search of investigation into the 2016 election and whether or not there was collusion with the Russians and there's been obstruction of justice since.
In that context, given the previous conversation with fired FBI Director Jim Comey where the President famously asked him for his loyalty, a conversation today just, last month with Rod Rosenstein in the White House by the President asking if he's on his team has perhaps a very different context and meaning than a voluntary public conversation by Attorney General Holder saying, "I'm enjoying working with the President. I'm his wing-man."
BURNETT: But you're saying it's different because this President is being investigated, that's the line, the context you're talking about? COONS: At least, yes.
BURNETT: Okay. We are reporting that Rosenstein appeared surprised when the President asked if he's on his team, but responded to the question by saying, "Of course we are all on your team, Mr. President."
In his testimony to Congress just after that meeting, Rosenstein was asked directly about whether the President asked for his loyalty, right, in the context of Comey they asked this meeting had happened, Rosenstein had replied, "Of course we are all on your team." And here's how the exchange then played out in Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFRIES: Is it ever appropriate for the President of the United States to demand the Department of Justice official or FBI director take a loyalty pledge?
ROSENSTEIN: I don't have any opinion about that, Congressman, nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge other than the oath of office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So either he didn't think that that was a loyalty pledge, or he misled the committee.
COONS: I believe that former -- that Rod Rosenstein chose to say, well, that wasn't a loyalty pledge. And it may be that he understood the question from Congressman Hakeem Jeffries to be prior to being hired. Since, remember, one of the things that's been a problem here is suggestions that the President asked for example, Andrew McCabe, when he was interviewing him to the FBI director for whom he had voted in 2016. So I would give Rod Rosenstein the benefit of the doubt in this case.
BURNETT: OK. So you're not worried about that. I mean, the FBI has said when it comes to this memo that they don't want it out, the GOP memo, Chairman Devin Nunes' memo, because it admits facts and it's inaccurate.
Now, I've spoken to a Democrat and Republican who have seen the memo and the background material upon which it is based. They agree that that background material should not be released because it could compromise sources.
BURNETT: Obviously they do not agree on the Nunes memo and whether it's accurate. My question to you though, Senator, do you think that it is possible that the FBI does not want this memo or source material out because there was a mistake made at the highest levels in the FBI in the FISA surveillance warrant process and the Russia investigation?
COONS: I mean that is certainly possible. Part of vigorous oversight by Congress through our intelligence committees is to assume that it's possible that law enforcement and the intelligence committee can make mistakes, do make mistakes. That's partly why we have a structure where the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have access to a very wide range of sensitive classified materials.
But I'll remind you what is so unprecedented here. There is another norm being violated here. In 40 years, the obscure committee rule that allows for a partisan report like this Devin Nunes written report to be released over the objection of the FBI and the Department of Justice, this was done in a party line vote.
COONS: This hasn't happened in decades and it suggests that what they are more interested in is scoring a partisan objective of undermining the FBI and DOJ and Robert Mueller's investigation --
BURNETT: How do we though --
COONS: -- rather than revealing some mistake by the FBI.
BURNETT: Yes. Which I -- look, I understand and we know they cherry picked the data.
BURNETT: They want -- it makes Bob Mueller's investigation look bad. But how do we get to the bottom of this? The committee is not functioning and they're putting out these partisan memos and no one is allowed to see them and no one is allowed to see what their base on, but there might be something there. Who the heck is supposed to tell the American people something did happen at the FBI?
COONS: We have a very well established and well functioning process over decades with the House and Intel -- House and Senate Intelligence Committees review and often criticize the actions of law enforcement and the intelligence committee.
BURNETT: But it's clearly not working on the House side, I mean, right, let's just call it out. It's not working.
COONS: Erin, but they don't do it by -- in a matter of a few days taking that material and making it public to the whole country. And by refusing to release balancing material that was crafted by the other side of the committee. This is unprecedented.
And I'll remind you, these two are connected because I think this is part of an orchestrated effort not just by Devin Nunes, but by a number of other House Republican to create a narrative that undermines the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
BURNETT: All right. Senator Coons, thank you very much. I appreciate your time tonight.
COONS: Thank you.
BURNETT: And next, the President has three days to stop the controversial Nunes memo from being released to the public. So what's going on behind the scenes at the White House tonight as this crucial decision deadline looms?
[19:15:04] Plus breaking news, a bombshell just dropped about Peter Strzok, you know, the FBI agent that Republicans claimed was out to get Trump. Wait until you hear what he is responsible for. Perhaps President Trump should be thanking him and sending him very expensive gifts. And it took a whole year to find out what we finally know what was in that box, that blue box, Robins egg blue from Melania to Michelle.
BURNETT: The breaking news, two administration officials telling CNN that President Trump could release the controversial Nunes memo as early as tomorrow. Official saying the memo which alleges surveillance abuse by the highest levels of FBI during the 2016 election in the Russia-Trump investigation is still being reviewed.
Jeff Zeleny is "OutFront" at the White House. So, Jeff, what is the latest you're hearing on Trump's thinking about the memo when obviously he had sort of said 100 percent to a congressman last night who asked him and that's been the entire talk of the White House, but he hasn't done it yet and if he does, what's the timeline?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erin, he did not say when but said 100 percent and that certainly set the stage her for what was seen is the, you know, ultimate release of this memo. Even though White House advisers throughout the day heard saying, "No, look, it is being reviewed." In the words of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, "Lawyers are slicing and dicing it and going through it."
[19:20:06] But the reality is the President set the mark on this last night and before saying it is going to be release. So now are best guess of timing is sometime tomorrow. Adviser Sarah says that this is likely be released tomorrow. It says it's a document of the House of Representatives. So don't look for any big announcement here at the White House, but it is likely going to be release in the lower key fashion from the House.
Now, what's complicating all of this is the President will be tomorrow with all the Republicans in the House and Senate at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Devin Nunes, of course, the center of all this will also be there. But time is running out in the sense. There were five days to release this. So of course tomorrow is day four. So look for this tomorrow, but also look for potential redactions to this.
We've been here all day long as we've been saying, the White House could acquiesce to some FBI demands and change some parts of this or black out some parts of the more classified points of this. That's why this is taking longer than they thought. But again, at any point tomorrow it's still going to exacerbate the FBI White House tensions here. This is pretty extraordinary. This is the President's own FBI director. He appointed him. And he said he had grave concerns about it. Tomorrow we believe the President will release it anyway. Erin?
2BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny.
"OutFront" now, the former White House Counsel for President Richard Nixon, John Dean, Kirsten Power, USA Today Columnist, and former FBI Senior Intelligence Adviser, former CIA Counterterror Official Phil Mudd.
Phil, you've worked at the FBI. You heard Jeff Zeleny. FBI headed by the President's own director has come out and said these are grave concerns that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy. It couldn't be more dire and yet it seems the President is going to go ahead. Do you think there is any chance he listens to his own FBI director and changes his mind?
PHIL MUDD, FORMER FBI SENIOR INTELLIGENCE ADVISER: I'm not certain. This is not about the FBI. This is not about whether the FBI reduxes. This is about whether there is an administration that continues to say their own executive branch is deep state that's trying to oust the President.
We saw this when the President said deep state wired (ph) in Trump Tower. He said the deep stated led the former National Security Adviser Susan Rice to unmask information about U.S. citizens that was inappropriate. Republicans and Democrats on the Hill said that was not correct.
Now what we're getting is another allegation. The deep state is inappropriately collecting information about this investigation. Erin, this is larger than about whether the classification in the memo suggests that we're going to reveal national security secrets. I don't think we will.
This is about a unique experience when a Republican President and Republican congressman tells us that Republican Department of Justice and Republican FBI are actually representative of the deep state. It's us versus them and the President has said, "If you don't believe in me, you're off the team.
BURNETT: And Kirsten, this issue of the team, just to make the point, President Trump picked Christophe Wray, nominated as FBI -- his FBI director. Christopher Wray was not involved any of this -- of the GOP memo cherry picks and tries to make it the case that there was abuses at the highest levels of the FBI. But Wray is coming out and saying this memo is inaccurate. This memo is okay -- is not okay and it poses grave consequences for national security.
KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: Yes.
BURNETT: Does that impact how people should view this?
POWERS: Well, I think so. Look, he chose him and he also went out of his way and his White House went on his way recently to really set him aside and basically say that Christopher Wray actually is an honorable man unlike this other people in the FBI who they say are very political people and out to get the President. So they'd established that he's completely credible in their eyes so why are they ignoring his opinion about this memo which, you know, that the FBI has grave concerns about it and we all know even best case scenario, I don't think anybody is denying, I don't think any Republican would disagree with this, is that it's all based on underlying information that we're not even going to be able to access and that most people haven't even seen.
BURNETT: Right. Including, I have to say this again and again, Devin Nunes, who signed his name to the memo which, you know, you can trust your staff as much as you want on something of this import if you haven't read it yourself to put your name on it to me as a citizen seems shocking.
John Dean, Republicans have claimed by the way in terms of why they're doing this and the motive, that it has nothing to do with Bob Mueller's investigation. Democrats obviously see this extremely differently. So I want to play for you the House Speaker Paul Ryan and Adam Schiff who of course is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller's investigation. And his investigation should be allowed to take its course.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is not about the facts. This is about a narrative that the chairman wants to put misleading narrative to undermine the FBI, undermine the department and ultimately undermine Bob Mueller.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: John, is this about Bob Mueller or not?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, having not seen the memo we only know what's been reported about it that it raises issues with the effort to get a FISA warrant and misuse or has politically tinged this information to get the warrant.
[19:25:05] I think the whole thing is a sham. These warrants from everything I've read about them over the year have 40, 50 pages for the judge to read. It's not based on one document. It's based on multiple documents. It's often based on sworn testimony before the judge.
So the other thing is what you're saying if this process is wrong, it's the court that needs to correct it, not the House of Representatives by releasing a document to the public that won't understand it and can do nothing about it. It should be the judge who has been mislead somehow and that can be done privately with communications with the court, not to release the public document. So this is just a pure political act.
BURNETT: Which, of course, is what makes it so problematic on an investigation that needs to be seen as credible and fair by all Americans.
Phil, you know, there is a big question here too about whether Devin Nunes coordinated with the White House, which would completely change this whole thing, if that's possible, but it would make it much worse.
During the House Intelligence Committee, where the members voted on whether release the Nunes memo, your fellow -- I mean, sorry. Congressman Mike Quigley pushed Congressman Nunes on whether he had talked to the White House, OK. This was the crucial question. I wanted to play part of the exchange according to a transcript. Here it is.
OK, sorry, it's a transcript. Let me read it. Quigley says, Congressman Quigley, "Was any of this done after/during conversations or consultations with anyone in the White House," referring to the memo. Nunes, "I would just answer, as far as I know, no.
Now of course, Nunes himself didn't write the memo, his staff did because he didn't read the background information. So when he was pushed about whether any of his staff consulted with the White House, Nunes responds though, "The chair is not going to entertain a question by another member."
Sarah Sanders, of course, also didn't directly deny whether there had been coordination. Do you think it is possible that there was, though?
MUDD: Give me a break. I'm going to break the camera here in a moment, Erin. Have you ever worked in Washington, D.C.? I worked at the highest levels of the FBI, the CIA. I worked on the National Security Council in the White House.
In the midst of the highest profile investigation of political corruption we've seen since the 1970s, in the midst of a precedent of cooperation between the Congress, including Devin Nunes and the White House, do you think it was a secret that congressional officials were preparing a memo of this import and nobody knew at the White House? You got to be kidding me.
I'm going to tell you the moon is made of green cheese. I'm not saying there is cooperation. I'm not saying there is collusion. I'm saying in that small town of Washington, D.C. that to suggest that nobody at the White House knew the congressional staffers were discussing a memo of this import is -- that's ridiculous.
It's not about whether Devin Nunes coordinated. It is whether somebody knew over a cup of coffee and talked about it and to tell me they didn't is just stupid.
BURNETT: Kirsten, ridiculous?
MUDD: Clear enough?
POWERS: It would be hard to believe that it didn't happen. But I also think it would be important to know if they actually -- if he actually was coordinating with them, which is different than just sharing the information.
POWERS: I think the question was more to the point of like even working with them on this which, you know, based on Nunes', you know, background with the White House and he is sort of set himself up as somebody who is sort of a lucky for the White House, I think is a fair question.
BURNETT: Yes. And, of course, we should note for our viewers because it's very easy to forget, Devin Nunes is actually supposedly recused from being part of the Russia investigation for the House which, you know, you'd be forgiven for not realizing given that his name is on the memo alleging abuse in the Russian investigation by the FBI. Thank you all three.
And next breaking new, the focus of the GOP theory in the Russia probe may not be anti-Trump. New information about the FBI agent Peter Strzok and his role in the Clinton e-mail investigation. President Trump will not believe this. He will have to change his love bird e- mail about this guy --tweets, I'm sorry.
And a train full of GOP lawmakers crashing into a track, a tragedy one person was killed, others injured. We're going to get a firsthand account who was on board.
[19:31:45] ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Breaking news, a stunning development tonight involving FBI agent Peter Strzok a man demoted after sending anti-Trump text messages to a fellow FBI employee and removed from the Mueller investigation when they found that out -- the man Republicans and the president have pounced on, accusing him of being politically biased against Trump.
Well, we have now learned something pretty significant. Strzok played a major role in reopening the Clinton email investigation which, of course, as we all know was just days before the election. It's a decision Clinton blames for her loss in the election, and even others on the side of the aisle would be agree was an important factor.
Manu Raju is OUTFRONT in Washington.
And, Manu, what are you learning tonight?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, new emails obtained by CNN show the FBI agent Peter Strzok actually played a key role in the FBI decision that did upend the Clinton campaign just days before the 2016 elections. And that was the letter to Congress by James Comey, announcing the bureau was investigating newly discovered Clinton emails.
Now, on October 27th, 2016, Strzok co-wrote the first draft that formed the basis of the Comey letter that was sent to Congress the next day. Now also separately, a source familiar with Strzok said he supported reopening the Clinton investigation, and once those emails surfaced on the laptop of the disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Now, this is significant because Strzok has come under enormous criticism from Republicans who have seized on his anti-Trump message that he exchanged with FBI attorney Lisa Page with whom he was having an extramarital affair. And those messages are under investigation in Congress and by the Department of Justice inspector general.
Now, Trump even suggested that those two committed treason.
But it's also important to note, Erin, that we have seen text messages suggesting that page and Strzok may have some reservations about going public with the Comey letter, even texting that they shouldn't go public two days before the election when Comey announced separately that there was nothing to those emails. But all these new documents, Erin, are painting a much more complex picture of Strzok as Republicans have used his text criticizing Trump to try to claim the Russian investigation is tainted -- Erin.
BURNETT: So, Manu, just to make sure I understand, you are saying he wrote the first draft of the letter which would reopen the investigation, he didn't do that under duress, he supported reopening that investigation. But when it came to, you know, two days before the election when Comey said, oh, there's nothing in the emails, he didn't support Comey doing that. So, he would have left it open?
RAJU: Yes, he harbored some private reservations but he was working with this team to reopen this investigation. And he made it very clear he supported that even writing that first draft that announced that on October 28th that they were looking into those Clinton emails, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Manu, thank you so much.
This is significant report. Joan Walsh is "The Nation's" national affairs correspondent is OUTFRONT, along with Steve Cortes, head of President Trump's Hispanic Business Council during the campaign.
All right. Joan, so, you know, for weeks, Republicans, the president have seized on Strzok's text messages, which certainly showed in at least on a personal basis, he did not like Trump. That was pretty clear. And they said this was tantamount to treason, at least the president did.
But now, we learned he is the guy who wrote the memo to reopen the investigation, wanted to reopen it and didn't want to announce that the emails were fine two days before, would have left the chad hanging out there.
JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: A couple of things. I mean, this does vindicate Strzok to some extent.
[19:35:01] It vindicates the people who have been saying all along, FBI agents happen to have lots of political opinions. There are lots of people in the bureau who are Trump fans. Strzok unfortunately had his text revealed that did show that he wasn't a big fan of Donald Trump.
But now we know he was capable, as many of his defenders said, of doing his job, separating his feelings about Trump from the facts of the matter that came before him when it came to the Clinton investigation. So, he supports opening the investigation, he writes the letter justifying it. I want to clarify something though, because I think that what he opposed was the initial decision to go public -- Comey's decision to go public on the 27th or the 28th of October.
I think that's the decision that he opposed. Maybe somebody can correct me if I'm wrong. But I think he was saying we have to proceed with this investigation but because we don't yet --
BURNETT: And sends alert to congress.
WALSH: And send a letter to Congress, but not go public with it. But I mean, once you send a letter to Jason Chaffetz, you've gone public.
BURNETT: That's true. But, Steve, does this change the narrative here? I mean, let me just play the narrative here. I mean, let me just play the narrative because we all know it. But let's play it.
Here's what Republicans have said about what Peter Strzok personal text messages meant about his professional behavior.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I believe that Mr. Strzok was a political hack.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: That is a level of bias that is stunning among law enforcement officers.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: This is not a distraction. Again, this is bias, potentially corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The individual part of that process has already been shown to be extremely bias against the president. And was involved in what seems to be some very inappropriate behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Certainly that narrative changes a bit tonight, doesn't it, Steve?
STEVE CORTES, TRUMP CAMPAIGN'S HISPANIC ADVISORY COUNCIL: You know, Erin, maybe a bit. But doesn't mean it changes entirely. Look, somebody can be bias but doesn't mean they are utterly evil. It doesn't mean he's Dart Vader, and he can at times do the right thing.
And, by the way, before we canonize him, OK, for this decision, the FBI learned that Anthony Weiner, an absolute creep, a child sex predator, someone who is now in prison and belongs there, had highly classified information on his laptop. For Peter Strzok to know that and to then ignore that and not say this is worth investigating, how did Huma's emails -- how did Hillary's emails end up on that laptop?
BURNETT: But he did saying we should reopen the investigation, he did say it was worthy.
CORTES: For him to ignore that would be criminal, certainly evil. So, let's not laud him. Let's not canonize him and put a halo over his head because he said, you know what, we have to look at how a child predator ended up with classified emails from the State Department.
WALSH: There was no classified information. It was not classified. And they were duplicates -- they were duplicates of emails that the FBI had already seen.
CORTES: That's wrong.
WALSH: They were duplicates. They were not classified. It was stuff that Huma had stupidly transferred to home computer.
CORTES: That's wrong. And on top of that, he didn't want to go public. So, the idea that this is exculpatory, that oh, he's actually an honest broker in the situation, he want to open the investigation, but he were quiet, he didn't want the American people to know the full extent of what Hillary Clinton -- who?
WALSH: Rod Rosenstein, when Rod Rosenstein wrote his memo justifying Donald Trump's decision to fire Jim Comey, he called out Comey for the act of going forward and making those new emails which turned out not to be new, public. He said it was against the department regulations. It should not have been done so close to the election.
There was no -- they had no knowledge. They knew they were helms but didn't know if they were duplicates. They didn't know if they've already examined them which they had. Rod Rosenstein actually defends the point of view of Peter Strzok.
CORTES: I'm not here to defend Rod Rosenstein. I'll tell you this. The --
WALSH: Oh, I know, he's a bad guy now. I forgot.
CORTES: Unfortunately, both of those amazing institutions, particularly the FBI where a lot of agents take hard and take a lot of risks to protect us, both of those agencies have been led for far too long by incredibly partisan and incredibly corrupted people, quite frankly, from James Comey on down. And I would --
WALSH: It's outrageous for you to say that.
BURNETT: Is Christopher Wray corrupt because he's saying the president would make a grave mistake in going against his wishes tonight? Christopher Wray, of course, nominated by Trump. CORTES: I don't think he's corrupt, but he's wrong, because -- and here's the thing --
WALSH: He's always wrong.
CORTES: -- by the way, if this memo says what we think it says, it's going to be very incriminating of the FBI. So, should we give the FBI veto power over a memo which unveils its own problems and its own complicity with an anti-Trump campaign within the administration using our --
WALSH: Donald Trump chose Rod Rosenstein. He chose Rosenstein, he chose Wray. So, now, these are his people that you are now accusing of anti-Trump bias. You guys are going to really regret this when this is all over, Steve, because you are demonizing people for the most part keep us safe.
[19:40:01] We have no evidence of any kind of systematic bias in the FBI.
CORTES: No, I'm not demonizing men and women of the FBI.
WALSH: Yes, you are this.
CORTES: They're fantastic and they have been betrayed by the leadership of the FBI like people like James Comey, who wrote the exoneration memo of Hillary Clinton months before the investigation even concluded --
BURNETT: And then possibly signed --
WALSH: And who protected Donald Trump? I mean, it's so funny, because for the FBI to put thumb on scales for Hillary Clinton, why did they not release the information that Donald Trump was under serious investigation, we now know how serious for campaign possible collusion and ties to Russia? They're so in the tank for Clinton. They did such a good job electing Hillary Clinton.
CORTES: Show me the evidence of collusion by the way? Do you have any?
WALSH: I think Don Jr. emails saying he would love it if you got some dirty information on Hillary Clinton is pretty darn incrementing, but that's not my job, Steve.
CORTES: That's collusion?
WALSH: That's interest in getting damaging information from a foreign power. That's not a good thing.
Somebody else is going to have to decide if it's collusion. But what we know is accepting the help of a foreign power to influence our election, accepting help, it's not money, but it is help, it's material assistance, that ain't going to be good if that turns out to be the truth.
CORTES: The Russians --
BURNETT: Steve, you got the last word. Joan got the first.
CORTES: The Russian government did not elect Donald Trump president. They did not. The American people did.
WALSH: Now, you're changing the subject.
CORTES: The workers in Pennsylvania, and Ohio and Wisconsin, cops and factory workers and miners, those are the people who elected Donald Trump because they believed in his economic fruition which by the way is coming to fruition in a great way for the American people.
BURNETT: Thank you both. I appreciate it.
And next, Republican lawmakers still pushing for release of that controversial Nunes memo, despite the FBI's warning. My next guest is among them.
And breaking news, the Pentagon saying nothing after a missile defense failure, it was a big one, as North Korea continues its aggressive posturing, America's missile defense shield failed this morning.
[19:45:40] BURNETT: Tonight, a showdown looming between the Trump White House and FBI. White House officials telling CNN President Trump could release a memo spearheaded by Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that alleges FBI abuse of surveillance warrants during the Russian investigation, related to the Trump campaign, as soon as tomorrow.
But FBI led by Trump's handpicked choice Chris Wray is urging the White House reconsider, stating it has, quote, grave concerns about the memo's accuracy and damage that could be done with its release.
OUTFRONT now, Republican congressman from New York, Lee Zeldin, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, I appreciate your time, thank you.
I know you have had a change to read the memo. You have called for the president to release it. Now, of course, the FBI has come out and said with Christopher Wray himself, saying grave concerns. That it should not be released. Trump's own Justice Department saying it could be extraordinarily reckless to release it.
Do you think the FBI and Justice Department are both wrong?
REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK: They were wrong as it relates to the FISA abuse. And it would make sense that there would be people at the DOJ and the FBI that wouldn't want this memo to go out because it's going to show FISA abuse took place and there was misconduct at some of the highest levels of both agencies. BURNETT: So, when you talk about FISA abuse and misconduct, of
course, you're well aware, there is a Democratic memo based on the same source material which reaches the opposite conclusion, that there wasn't such abuse. And I know you believe in transparency.
I assume the, Congressman, that you also want the Democratic memo which does reach the opposite conclusion that the GOP want to be released, right?
ZELDIN: Yes, I think that we need to be able to get both memos out. As it relates to the Schiff memo, which is a little bit more about damage control, and when it comes out publicly, you'll be able to see it yourself. The memo has certain things added to it that there is going to have to be a discussion as to whether or not the Dems are actually calling for certain sources and methods to come out.
The majority memo is a little bit shorter. It doesn't go into certain specifics of certain sources and methods on purpose. So, that will be something that it will be worth having a conversation to Democrats of whether or not they want to release the entire memo or if they want to change any of the words around because there were certain things in there that they placed that I'm just not sure they actually would want to release some of those details.
BURNETT: OK. So, you talk about sources and methods. Now -- but the point that I'm making, and look, you are being consistent here on transparency, if you want to put them both out, and there may be parts of both that have to be redacted for classified reasons, that will have to be negotiated, right, with the FBI and the Justice Department. But, you know, they're both based on the same source material and both reach different conclusion.
So, you said on the floor of the House in addition to releasing the memo, I believe it's important to release relevant material source in the memo. Obviously, as you know, many of your colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, are against revealing the source material. But I just want to be clear, Congressman Zeldin, are you for releasing all the underlying intelligence, so the American can read it themselves and they could read the Democrat resolution and the Republican, and truly make up their own mind?
ZELDIN: The American public wants as much information as they can to be able to form their own independent judgment for themselves. As far as the relevant material source in the memo, I would want as much of that information that can be released as possible.
I think the American public wants as much information to be released as possible. They don't want to be able to just take my word for it or just take your word for it. They want to be able to see them for themselves. I respect that. Give them more information and have a lot of faith in the American public.
BURNETT: So, the question is what this will lead to now that this has all become so public? And if the answer is either all or nothing and you're going to go with all as much as can possibly put out there, your colleague the Democratic Senator Ron Wyden tweeted today, quote, if this memo comes out, referring to Devin Nunes memo, I have a long list of less sensitive but still classified information that the American people deserved to see.
Are you worried he might be right? That this fight over this one thing could start a flood of let's just put this classified information out there and that out there, and, all of a sudden, you do have a real compromise in the system?
[19:50:04] ZELDIN: Well, it's -- I mean, I've read both memos. The majority memo that was written, by the way, you just referred to it as the Nunes memo. He didn't read it. It was drafted by another member of the committee with staffers, but Chairman Nunes did not write this particular memo. That's why it's more majority memo.
As far as the contents of the memo goes, it is not revealing any good sources and methods. The -- in the Schiff memo, if they want to change any of the wording around to make the same exact point, but without revealing, there are certain details -- by the way, the scope of the Schiff memo, this is beyond the FISA abuse topic.
And the other thing that I'll point out is that in certain respects, they are talking past each other. Like if, for example, I offered you a dollar and you wanted to sell me lemonade, and then you gave me lemonade and I don't know like how it tasted, and never actually gave you the dollar. And I said I offered you the dollar and you say that you never received the dollar, maybe it's both true, but kind of talking past each other. So, you know, that's something else.
But you know what? That's where -- when you get everything out for the American public, they can decide for themselves. But, you know, the two memos don't directly rebut each other. The Schiff memo kind of talks past the majority memo at certain points.
BURNETT: Which, you know, frankly might be fine, however much pages of underlying material, you reach different conclusions on different things. I mean, that would make sense that different people would see different things they think are of importance.
Before you go tonight, Congressman, I just want to say, obviously, you are in West Virginia tonight and people should know, you had a very scary day. We are so glad you are OK. Your Republicans are OK.
There was obviously a tragic train accident with that truck when you're on your way to West Virginia that happened in Virginia. The driver of that truck was killed. Others were injured. I know you are OK, but no doubt it was a very scary and upsetting experience.
What went through your mind when it happened?
ZELDIN: Well, when it first happened, we knew something really bad took place, but you didn't know exactly what. And if I had to come up with an analogy, it's kind of like getting into a car accident except you are on a high speed train and you're hitting a dump truck. And, you know, a lot of different noises because aside from the impact itself, the train was trying to slow down. Now, what is in my mind above all else is someone lost their life and
there is a family that's mourning right now. You have people who are injured, who are fighting for their lives. That is first and foremost on my mind.
I'll tell you something else, though, is that thank God that the conductor of this train was able to keep this train on those tracks. It's amazing that this train was able to come to a complete stop because if it derailed, you had almost every single member of the House and Senate, including the speaker of the house, and it would have been a total catastrophe.
So, you know, the first responders, the police, the doctors, all of the medical professionals, and certainly keeping our thoughts and prayers with those who are injured and the one gentleman who was killed, that's what's on our mind. This could have been a lot worse. And I'm also just very thankful for just great Americans who stepped up on a moments' notice, whether it's training, their instincts, their expertise. We really do have a great country.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you so much, Congressman Zeldin. I appreciate your time.
ZELDIN: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: And now to another breaking story, an alarming failure today of the American missile system. The system failed to intercept an incoming target that was launched in Hawaii.
This comes as sources tell CNN, don't rule out another missile test in the future, right? This is the test that is supposed to protect America from incoming ICBMs from North Korea.
Barbara Starr is OUTFRONT.
And, Barbara, I mean, this is pretty significant. Second failure of this missile defense system in the past year and this is the defense system that America would rely on in the event of an incoming missile from North Korea.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, especially for it to fail right now, when the message to Kim Jong-un is, you know, don't try anything. We can shoot your missiles down -- well, this test failed to do it. The missile launched, the target launched but during the test, they just simply didn't intercept each other.
They are trying to find out what the malfunction is and what actually went wrong with this. But it is a very crucial situation. The timing is critical because just a few days ago, the CIA Director Mike Pompeo told an audience that it maybe just a handful of months from when Kim Jong-un is able to demonstrate the capability, not that he would attack, but demonstrate the capability for him to put a warhead on top of a North Korean missile that could potentially hit the U.S. So, to have this failure is nothing something that the Pentagon is too anxious for the world to see. [19:55:04] This particular part of the system is, in fact, designed
maybe somebody to hit an intercontinental ballistic missile, that kind that would come from North Korea and it's a system that Japan wants to feel for its security in that Asia-Pacific region -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Barbara, thank you very much. And, of course, even scarier when you think about the false missile threat in Hawaii just a couple of weeks ago. If that had been real, that's the shield we've got.
OUTFRONT next, from Melania to Michelle, the secret gift revealed.
BURNETT: Tonight, what did Melania gift to Michelle over a year ago and now we know. Here is Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is literally the gift that keeps on giving, the one Melania Trump handed to Michelle Obama last January.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: It's Tiffany's box.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
MOOS: After her husband first left her in the car.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He just walks up the steps without his wife, just leaves his wife behind. He just walks up there.
2MOOS: The mystery gift led Twitter to collectively ask the question Brad Pitt once agonized over in the movie "Seven".
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's in the box?
MOOS: At the least the Tiffany's box didn't contain a decapitated head like in the movie.
Guesses about what Melania gave Michelle ranged from "The Apprentice" season 1 DVD boxed sets to her husband's tax returns.
But thanks to Elaine, we now know the truth.
ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST: What was in there?
OBAMA: It was a lovely frame.
DEGENERES: What, a frame?
OBAMA: It was a frame.
MOOS: Perhaps something like this $950 one in sterling silver? But it was the awkward handoff that made the exchange funny since there was no protocol for gift-giving. OBAMA: Never before do you sort of get this gift. OK. What am I
supposed to do with the gift and then my husband saved the day.
MOOS: President Obama took it inside. This year, instead of gift- giving, Melania was feted at the State of the Union, drew her own applause while her husband came under scrutiny.
JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT COMEDIAN: But if there's any question about the first lady's enthusiasm for her husband, she put those rumors to rest tonight.
MOOS: Melania repeatedly clapped with only slightly more conviction than Bernie Sanders. But at leas no one joked like last year that she was sending out an SOS in a Tiffany's box.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BURNETT: Came next to Bernie was pretty good.
Thank you so much for joining us. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT any time, any where. You just have to go to CNN Go.
In the meantime, Anderson Cooper is next with "AC360".