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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview with Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas; CNN: White House Worried FBI Chief Could Quit Over Memo Release. Aired 4:3005p ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A White House official telling CNN today that the president is OK with releasing the memo over objections raised by his own FBI director, Christopher Wray, and others in the Justice Department.

[16:30:01] Joining me now to discuss this is Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee and he has seen the memo in question, the so-called Nunes memo.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Do you know anything about these accommodations being made?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: I don't, but I do know that the request was a serious one, and in the Director Wray's statements he said, himself, there's inaccuracies in the memo. When I read it and when many of the members read it, we saw it as fundamentally a political statement and document, and, also, a partisan document. At this point, it's clear that Devin Nunes's political purpose is to basically be a sacrifice fly for the White House and specifically for Donald Trump.

TAPPER: So, the basic suggestion I heard from people like Paul Ryan, the speaker, who don't think this memo should be used to discredit the FBI, discredit the Justice Department, to discredit the Russian investigation or Robert Mueller, is that -- there may have been a violation of civil liberties, presumably, based on reporting, that could be Carter Page, that FISA warrant, surveillance warrant based too much on political documents could have been used? Is that possible? Is there possibly a civil liberties issue underneath all of this?

CASTRO: It's very unlikely based on everything I've seen. From everything I've seen, they followed, basically, the normal processes. And so, I also can't understand when the speaker says that it's not an attack on the institution, when you look at what Donald Trump has been saying over the past year, and even before as a candidate, and his constant attacks on the FBI, some of its personnel, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies.

And then, finally, the fact that rather than consulting with the FBI, they really did not give the FBI a chance to respond at all. Instead, or review the memo and said instead and that the FBI is under investigation by the House Intelligence Committee. So, that was a strange thing too.

TAPPER: The FBI director, Christopher Wray, the deputy attorney general, Rob Rosenstein, the assistant attorney general, Stephen Boyd, they've all out publicly against the release of the Nunes memo. Do you think if the White House overrules these three individuals, top Justice Department officials, they should resign?

CASTRO: That the Justice Department officials should resign?

TAPPER: Or Christopher Wray or all three?

CASTRO: Well, I mean, they've got to make that decision for their own careers, but I'm reluctant to say that they should resign in protest because I'm worried that Donald Trump is going to try to put stooges in there who do his bidding and try to kill the Russian investigation or otherwise only serve to protect him from any kind of legal liability.

TAPPER: At this point, I just want to circle back on the underlying argument being made by your Republican counterparts in the House Intelligence Committee. Can you rule out the possibility there was misconduct by the FBI or the Justice Department when it came to FISA surveillance during this investigation into the Trump campaign and affiliates of the Trump campaign?

CASTRO: Well, I guess, let me acknowledge a few things. First, only two members of the House Intelligence Committee have actually seen the underlying source material, so that means that nobody else in the House Intelligence Committee has seen the underlying source material. That's why if you look at my public comments from the hearing, I said that I would prefer that neither Republican memo or the Democratic memo be released unless the public can also see the source materials and make a decision for themselves.

And that really is ill-advised because you are compromising sources and methods, but based on everything I've seen at least, there's -- I have not seen reason to think that processes were violated.

TAPPER: A senator earlier today, I believe it was Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, suggested he thinks all of this is just the president trying to create a pretext, put out this memo, and then use that as an excuse to fire the special counsel Robert Mueller. Do you agree?

CASTRO: It's quite possible, yes. The president seems to be taking different steps to protect himself. That seems to be his priority, and he's got folks like the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who are helping him on that, so I think the senator could be right.

TAPPER: The top Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, from California, he claims that the Nunes memo, the one that was sent to the White House, is different on what was voted to be released by the committee, and, therefore, the one that was sent cannot be made public. A spokesman for Nunes responded changes made were just minor edits to the memo including grammatical fixes, and two edits requested by the FBI and by the minority Democrats themselves.

I don't know if you saw them or not, but by your understanding, were these changes important ones that would alter the conclusion or were they just syntax and some requests made by the FBI and the Democrats?

[16:35:07] CASTRO: I haven't seen the revised version because I haven't been in a classified setting back in Washington since it's been revealed that there's another version, but I've been briefed on it. And my understanding is that there are appreciable differences in those two memos that are not just correcting a misspelled word, for example, so as Adam Schiff made the point yesterday, I think the changes are significant and material enough so that this altered version should not have been sent to the president without having another committee vote.

TAPPER: Congressman Joaquin Castro, it's always good to have you here. Thank you so much for the time, sir.

CASTRO: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Could the possibility of two FBI directors leaving within one one-year period keep president trump from releasing the memo? We're going to talk about that and much more with our political panel.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:19] TAPPER: Every hour is like a day, and every day, new threads making a bigger mess of the likely release of the secret surveillance memo crafted by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and his Republican staff. The White House pushing for its release, while those at the top of the Justice Department and FBI warned of grave concerns over admissions they say makes the memo inaccurate.

The political panel is here to discuss this with me now.

So, Josh Holmes, let me start with you. According to sources, White House aides worry that this release might drive the FBI Director Christopher Wray out the door.

Might that give him pause, the president, in terms of releasing the memo?

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I mean, I think the decision's been made. I think the memo's coming out. I honestly don't think that the FBI director is going anywhere. He, obviously, has an obligation to fight for his department, and their view is that it shouldn't come out.

The thing is about this, it's not new, right? I mean, the FBI, the DOJ, and the CIA have typically been at odds with Congress when it comes to revealing anything in the intel community. Sources and methods aside, anything. We had a huge fight in 2014 about release of a CIA document pertaining to torture. TAPPER: Right.

HOLMES: In the early 2000s during the beginning of the war on terror. That's kind of similar, right? I mean, there's still that same tension, I'm not surprised that that continues today. So, you know, I don't think he's going to go anywhere.

TAPPER: The difference is, I think, and maybe you can correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me the difference is this time it's Republicans in the Justice Department branch telling Republicans in Congress and the White House not that this could compromise sources and methods, but that it's inaccurate, that it gives a misleading impression of what happened.

HOLMES: That was actually similar to what happened in 2014 with the CIA saying --

TAPPER: The torture method, yes.

HOLMES: Yes, it painted an inaccurate picture. So, there's a lot of similarities.

TAPPER: OK.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I don't see Wray quitting and one reason why is I think he has some line of authority here. I don't think Trump can actually fire Wray or Rosenstein without a huge political fire storm. So, I think in reality, Wray has got some power. The fact that he was able to put out the memo which sort of blasted the White House tells you he has some authority.

I think to some extent, Trump has a Wray-Rosenstein particularly, if he fires them, that's going to create a whole another issue entirely for him. So, I think there are constraints here that Trump has to think about as he behaves the way he's behaving.

TAPPER: President Trump is from the very beginning said that the intelligence committee is out to get him, even before he took office. He referred to what the intelligence community was doing as reminiscent of Nazi Germany. Now, he's constantly use the term "witch hunt" to push back on accusations of collusion. He arguably helped forced out the deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe. We also heard reports of him wanting Sessions gone for rescuing himself, Rosenstein gone for not having a better control of this Mueller investigation, and even Mueller gone.

So, already, there's this horrible relationship between the intelligence community and President Trump. Specifically, the Justice Department. How bad can it get if he goes against his own Justice Department?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's just continuing what he's already started, as you just outlined.

TAPPER: He would argue they started it. But just -- please continue. PSAKI: OK. But this is about one issue. It's the Russian

investigation, and the fact he's feeling the heat of the investigation. So, there's no doubt he's going to continue this drumbeat of trying to discredit exactly the institutions and officials that are going after him and his point of view.

Now, some say that this is him misunderstanding or not understanding the separations between, you know, the White House and the Department of Justice. That's baloney. He's been president for a year.

TAPPER: Yes.

PSAKI: But there's no doubt he'll continue it. How problematic could it be? Pretty problematic. I mean, it becomes -- not to over- dramatize, but it's a bit of a constitutional crisis when he's not abiding by the separation between the White House and the Department of Justice.

TAPPER: I think of one thing that what we can probably all agree on is that the House Intelligence Committee is a mess and that it usually operates in a bipartisan fashion, or they at least try to, there's usually a sort of level of decorum and respect.

When Mike Rogers who was here a few minutes ago, when he was the chairman, the Republican, worked closely with the Democrat. Nancy Pelosi today called for Nunes to be removed as a chairman.

She wrote, quote: From the start, Congressman Nunes has disgraced the House Intelligence Committee. Since pledging to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation, Congressman Nunes has abused his position to launch a highly unethical and dangerous cover-up campaign for the White House.

The memo train has clearly left the station, but what do you think about the idea that he's not being an effective chairman?

HOLMES: I am not a big fan of characterizing in any way classified information because you have to get at its core, the sources and methods, in order to understand the entire picture.

And what you have when you start characterizing classified information is what this has devolved into now, which is a partisan fight. And it doesn't matter what side is right or what side is wrong. They're having a full-fledged fight over classified information only some of which will ever be known. It's also sort of undermines another investigation that I think is actually important here which is the I.G. investigation at the Department of Justice, which is designed to find what we're trying to get at with this memo. And so, look, I don't like the way that this whole thing has started, but it is what it is, right? We've now gotten to a point where we have to release it. It's a matter of public interest.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So, just one point on that, and then we have to break, which is it's Democrats versus Republicans in the House, but also Republicans in the Justice Department and FBI are actually with the House Democrats on the issue. Coming up, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up, a phrase made famous during Watergate, could that call true with the Trump Tower meeting as the cover-up more is important than what happened at that meeting? That's next. Stay with us

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: Welcome back. As we wait to see what is in the controversial Nunes memo, a key witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is raising new questions about possible obstruction of justice. I'm back with the panel. So, according to the New York Times, former Trump Legal Spokesman Mark Corallo was concerned that White House Communications Director Hope Hicks might have been attempting to obstruct justice during the whole conference on Air Force One when they were concocting the public excuse for Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians.

She reportedly said that Donald Trump Jr.'s e-mails would never get out, and that set off a light bulb for Corallo who ultimately and very quickly resigned. What do you -- what do you think about this, especially the fact -- let me start with you Perry -- a lawyer for Hicks who normally doesn't say anything about any of these charges, she came -- the lawyer came forward publicly to deny it? It speaks volumes that the lawyer did that.

PERRY BACON, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Yes. There seems to be a great amount of concern the people in the White House have doubt what happened on this call involving this meeting and the attempts to lie to the press about it functionally. It seems like they lied to the press about it, they may have also crossed the legal lines as well. I don't know because I think -- it's not necessarily illegal to lie to the press although I hope people don't do that. But I think there is a question of whether --

TAPPER: They do -- they do, they do it by the way.

PERRY: They do it by the way. But I just want to question what this about, whether it constitutes a broader -- the broader story here is that the White House try to hide what happened in this meeting in a way that caused obstruction of justice.

TAPPER: To be charitable, we don't know the context of the remark. She could have been saying that she doesn't think the texts are going to get out to the media, not that she's trying to hide them from the investigation. That would make a big difference.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, I think, also, she's somebody who came into the White House never having worked in politics, never working in government, and probably never having sat in a meeting with Russian officials, not knowing what would be coming up in a meeting. So if you're being very charitable, all of that could be that she didn't know enough to know. However, I think the biggest question here is, is this part of a larger pattern of trying to cover up things for an investigation? Is she a key player in that? I have no idea. Maybe not, but I think that seems to be what they are looking for.

TAPPER: We -- I just want to make sure that we make a note of this, also. After a full day of no tweets, we woke up yet to another falsehood in a tweet from President Trump today. He tweeted, thank you for all the nice compliments and reviews in the State of the Union speech. 46.5 million people watched, the highest number in history. Now, we looked into this, if he's using Nielsen's 45.6 million number as the gauge, that means President Trump's State of the Union speech actually rated the sixth highest in history behind Barack Obama's first State of the Union Address, behind George W. Bush's first State of the Union Address, behind Bill Clinton's first State of the Union Address. Why? Why? I mean, he said -- I mean, he had -- he had good reviews.

HOLMES: Well, and behind his own Joint Congressional Address the year before.

TAPPER: Yes, exactly.

HOLMES: So I don't know. I mean, clearly, somebody gave him some information. He was proud of it. He was proud of the job that he did. You know, I've talked to a couple of Senators who spoke with him today at the Republican retreat who said that he continued the same kind of tone this afternoon. They feel really good about the way the State of the Union went, and some of the policies that have come from it, and they have been able to sort of unite around it. So, yes, I think he's feeling upbeat. I don't know why he does that.

TAPPER: You can't explain it.

HOLMES: I mean, come on.

TAPPER: When you talk to former people who worked on The Apprentice with him, and we did a piece about this a year ago, he would just go to these presentations to the press, and say, it's the number one show on NBC, when it would not be the number one show on NBC. It's -- you know, it's top five when it was, like, 70th. I mean, it just doesn't matter.

BACON: I think he's trying to keep fact checkers employed. I mean, he's doing a great job of that. But -- the speech, the State of the Union Address, his ideas of infrastructure have been all blown out of the water by this Nunes memo. It's just weird the fact that they -- the economy's doing well, his numbers actually go up, but constantly I would argue making political mistakes. This is the best couple of weeks in terms of policy he's had for a while, but we're not talking about that because he's decided to go in on the Russia story very hard in a way that I don't think it will help him much.

TAPPER: Jen?

PSAKI: Look, I think he has a pension for lying. I think we all know that. It was also the eighth largest tax cut, not the biggest tax cut which is something he says nearly every single day. Why he does it? I agree with Perry. I don't agree that this has been the best -- probably the best couple of weeks for his presidency. He has a tension for stepping on his own news and business.

TAPPER: Release the memo is the thing been stepping on his State of the Union.

PSAKI: Exactly.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all for being here. Coming up, more proof that Elon Musk may be the real-life, Bruce Wayne. Why billionaire is running around with a flamethrower and why time is up if you're trying to get yours. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: And to our "MONEY LEAD". To all the lovers out there preparing for Valentine's Day in 13 days, if you are planning on getting that special someone a flamethrower for Valentine's Day, you're sadly out of luck. Elon Musk tweeted he has sold out of the flamethrowers in a mere four days. He sold 20,000 devices. The price tag, just $500 a flamethrower. That means that the Tesla founder successfully met his goal of raising $10 million for his tunneling business, the boring company. The boring company insists the flamethrowers are safe. Just look at Elon Musk himself operate this bad boy, the safest toy since bag o' glass. But I might just stick with flowers and chocolates. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.