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CNN: FBI Agent Who Sent Anti-Trump Texts Co-Wrote Draft Letter Re-opening Clinton E-mail Probe; White House Officials Expect Decision On The Nunes Memo Today; NYT: Hicks Reportedly Said Don Jr. Emails Won't "Get Out"; Trump Clashes with FBI Chief and DOJ Over Memo Release; Trump Asked Rod Rosenstein If He was on "My Team". Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:01:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman.

Brace yourselves, folks. Brace yourselves for what could be a cascade of developments in the standoff between the White House and the FBI. The likes of which we really have never seen. Any hour, maybe any minute now the president could release the Republican memo accusing the FBI of bias and malpractice in the Russia investigation.

Brace yourselves for that. But what also might be the fallout -- the fallout -- for the new FBI director Christopher Wray appointed by the president himself after he fired James Comey. And for the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing the special counsel's Russia investigation.

HARLOW: This could be a huge morning. We have brand new developments just into us. As we get to those, the FBI under Wray released an extraordinary public statement expressing grave concern, their words. Grave concern about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.

So what does the director of the FBI do when the president releases this memo regardless of that warning? And in a new -- and another extraordinary twist overnight, the Ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff accuses the Republican chairman of that committee of altering the memo, changing it after the party vote to release it but before sending it to the president.

Let's go to the White House. Our Abby Phillip is there with new reporting just in. A decision is imminent on whether this memo comes out.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. We are learning from a White House official this morning that a decision is due today on whether to release this memo. That decision lies in the president's hands. Now it does not necessarily mean that the memo is actually going to be released immediately after the president makes his choice, but it certainly starts the clock on when we might see this four-page memo. Now as for those issues with what is actually in the memo, the White

House also is saying that they were not aware that Nunes made changes to the memo and what impact that could have on what final version we see. We really don't know. This four-page document has had some kinds of changes made to it.

Nunes says that those changes are cosmetic. The Democrats say the changes are substantive. But in between all of that, the FBI is saying that they have some serious factual disputes with this document. None of that seems to be holding the White House back from moving pretty rapidly to get this memo out there. The president has made his feelings on this very clear -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. Abby Phillip, thank you for all of those developments. Bring out more reporting as you get it this morning.

Now to another CNN exclusive. On the president's issues with loyalty, boundaries and protocol. In a meeting at the White House in December the president asked the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein whether he was on the president's team, saying, "Are you on my team?"

Shimon Prokupecz is in Washington with more.

The significance of this and the context, Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, certainly a significant and lots of context here. But, you know, just to kind of give people an idea of when this occurred, we're told this conversation between Rod Rosenstein and the president occurred back in December, you know, and we know Rod Rosenstein is the top Justice Department official that's in charge of the Russia investigation.

He wanted Trump's support. Rod Rosenstein wanted Trump's support in fighting off some of these document demands from Devin Nunes which are now part of this whole memo situation that we have all been talking about, and now during that conversation, there were these two questions from the president posed, that the president had for Rod Rosenstein. He wanted to know where the special counsel's Russia investigation was heading. And he also asked Rod Rosenstein -- he wanted to know if Rod was on -- quote, "on my team."

Now we're told Rod Rosenstein was surprised by the questions and didn't directly respond to the president.

Now this, keep in mind, is the latest episode to come to light where questions from the president potentially cross the line. And these could further raise questions about whether Trump was seeking to interfere in the Russia and obstruction of justice investigation -- Poppy and John.

BERMAN: Shimon, a lot going on right now including a development overnight first published by "The New York Times." The special counsel focusing in on this Air Force One memo meeting where the president along with some key aides were apparently drafting a response to the Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr. was promised dirt on Russians. Hope Hicks in the spotlight. What's going on here?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So this has to do with Mark Corallo who was the spokesperson for the legal team at the time. This is before the current legal team took over when the Russia investigation was first transferred to the special counsel.

[09:05:08] And Corallo -- Mark Corallo was the spokesperson. And what we're told -- we've been told about these conversations, there has been concern and this has been a focus of the special counsel investigation.

Now "The New York Times" says that the White House communications director Hope Hicks could be in some conversations with Mark Corallo on a conference call, he seemed to intimate that she had been considering obstruction of justice after a comment she made on the conference call about Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians, about sort of these e-mails that they possess that perhaps showed, explain some of the conversation and that she sort of hinted that the conversations would never get out, that these e-mails would never surface.

She said, quote, you know, we will, this will never get out. And we're told that Corallo plans to share these conversations with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Now Hicks' lawyers deny the stories in a statement to CNN. He basically says the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that e-mails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.

HARLOW: OK, Shimon. And there's more. We know that the White House has this controversial Nunes memo -- can you hear me, Shimon?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, guys, I'm not hearing you so I apologize.

HARLOW: OK. We'll get back to Shimon on that. But --

BERMAN: All right. Yes.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: Let's bring in our legal panel right now. Joining us, James Gagliano, CNN law enforcement analyst, former FBI supervisory special agent, and Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller. We might get Shimon back and see if he has some information about the memos as well.

James, let's start there. This memo which is now at the White House being reviewed. The president is going to make a decision on it any minute now. We are waiting on that. This extraordinary -- this extraordinary statement from the FBI where they say we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally -- I think we have the statement. That fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.

There's just no wiggle room in that. They're saying that they think -- the FBI saying they think that there are inaccuracies in this memo. JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Sure. And John, if you

blot out the noise on both ends of the political continuum and we just look at this from a law enforcement perspective, the concerns are sources and methods. We definitely want to protect people that give us information, and that information may have gone toward the FISA warrant.

HARLOW: Right.

GAGLIANO: We also don't want to give away sensitive techniques and methods, so that the folks that we are conducting operations against know how we do it. I think once we sort through all that, we'll be much better off. At this juncture right now, our concern is I think from the law enforcement end, let's just make sure there's a fair hearing. If one memo is to be released, it should be released in conjunction with the opposition party's memo.

HARLOW: But what if the White House decides today? We know they're deciding today. So if their decision is what the president promised that Republican congressman after the State of the Union 100 percent we'll release the memo, if he does that, after Christopher Wray leaving the FBI, the FBI put out the statement saying, don't do that, there are omissions of fact that make this memo partly at least inaccurate. What does that do to Christopher Wray? Does he stay? Can he stay?

GAGLIANO: I know Christopher Wray has already basically gone on record and said in front of Congress, if the president ever does something that I'm uncomfortable with, I'm going to push back. And if he continues on with it, I will resign.

Here's what I'm uncomfortable with. I'm uncomfortable with parts of this that shows that there might have been a few folks at the FBI, not the FBI as a whole, 35,000 employees. But there might have been some folks who did some dubious things. I think that fair scrutiny should be given there. But if there are things in that memo that could have consequences some of our sources, they need to be redacted, they need to be countered, they need to be scrubbed and the president needs to do the right thing.

BERMAN: It's curious, though, because Christopher Wray seems to have a different view. He just doesn't want this memo out there. He has grave concerns about it. And as we said he laid down a marker so I am very curious to see what he does.

Michael Zeldin, if we can, to move on to another subject, because there are so many subjects, this meeting that CNN is reporting in December where President Trump asked the deputy attorney general, first of all, to give him an update on the status of the Russia investigation.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: But then flat-out asked him, are you on my team? What question does that raise for you, Michael? MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, add one more point to that.

He also sent questions over two congressmen to ask Rosenstein in his House testimony.

HARLOW: Right.

ZELDIN: So you've got a trifecta in a sense of, are you on my team, in what way is this investigation proceeding, and when he testifies friends of mine on the committee, please ask him whether Mueller has a bias against me because I didn't appoint him as interim FBI director.

All of that speaks to the president's state of mind. And that is important to Mueller because Mueller has to make evaluations about whether any of the president's actions or the totality of the president's actions speak to an intent to obstruction his investigation.

[09:10:05] And so this window into the president's thinking allows Mueller a greater opportunity to evaluate the president's motives than really anything other than the intention of the president to have Mueller fired.

HARLOW: Yes.

ZELDIN: Which gives us another window into -- into his thinking. And that window, by the way, does not present a benign view of what the president is doing. It's not easy to look at these two things, the attempt to fire Mueller and are you on my team, and which way is this investigation going with Rosenstein to see that as an inexperienced guy who didn't know the rules. We're a year into his presidency now. He has to know the rules. This speaks to the possibility that he was really trying to interfere with this investigation.

HARLOW: Let's pull up that full screen, guys, if we can. These are all of the officials that the president asked for loyalty or something like that in one way or another. Right? So he asked the deputy AG, was he on the team. He asked Dan Coats, you know, you should publicly say there is no collusion. You can see it right there. Andy McCabe, who did you vote for. James Comey, asked for loyalty. Comey pushed back.

I would say, though, James, does it help the president's case at all that then after that meeting at the White House where the president said, are you on my team, Rosenstein went on to testify December 13th in front of the House and he said no, I was never asked for loyalty, I was never put in an uncomfortable position.

GAGLIANO: I want to look at this from a historical perspective. And people argue about what aboutism. And that's not what this is. It's historical context. George W. Bush had attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez, that was his general counsel when he was governor in the state of Texas. There was no way that when people were clamoring for an investigation into the start of the Iraq war, he was going to bring that case.

Barack Obama had a very close relationship with Eric Holder. Eric Holder, you know, considered himself to be his wing man in a 2013 interview. There was no way Eric Holder was going to look into the IRS issues.

In this instance, I think Trump, he's a neophyte at this. I'm not excusing him. I'm not an apologist for him. I'm --

BERMAN: You know what, I don't -- the neophyte thing doesn't sell in December. I'm sorry. Neophyte sells if he's meeting with Comey maybe in January.

GAGLIANO: John, I agree.

BERMAN: By the time he gets to asking --

HARLOW: A year in.

GAGLIANO: Yes.

BERMAN: You know, people who they voted for in December, it's just past that point.

GAGLIANO: Inappropriate, John. Yes. But I'll defer to my legal colleague here. But whether or not it's criminal, that's a different thing.

BERMAN: I'll defer to our legal colleague here, Michael Zeldin. You saw that pattern. You saw that full screen, all those people and the timing of it. December 2017, a year into office. Just New York talk?

ZELDIN: No, I don't think so. I mean, I grew up in New York. I don't remember talking like that because that I think is an indication of an intent to interfere with the investigation. Whether it's an indictable offense, whether it can be charged as obstruction under the statutes, different matter. Whether it's an abuse of his office, Ken Starr, the former Clinton prosecutor, seems to believe that it is an abuse of office.

For me I'm not sure where I am in the analysis of it. But it inches closer and closer to either statutory obstruction of justice or impeachable abuse of office. You just know there's no way when you look at this thing from the June 2016 through today and say there wasn't an overt effort to collude and then to interfere with the investigation into that collusion. It's hard to not reach that conclusion.

HARLOW: All right. Gentlemen, stay with us. We have a lot more to get through with you. We just have to get a quick break in. We have a lot ahead.

A CNN exclusive. So the FBI agent under fire for those anti-Trump texts, Peter Strzok, well, it turns out that he also played a key role in the controversial decision for the FBI to reopen that investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails just days before the election.

BERMAN: And we're also going to talk much more about Hope Hicks in the spotlight she might be under right now because of that Air Force One meeting. The idea that maybe she was trying to obstruct justice.

Also the president leaving very shortly, he may speak to the press. We will get our microphones to him and ask some questions. Stay with that.

Plus the Super Bowl is coming up. Obviously there's a football game, there are big ads. And usually there is a pregame interview with the president of the United States. Guess which one of those three things is not happening this year?

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[09:18:30]

HARLOW: All right. This morning, another CNN exclusive in the Russia investigation. E-mails show that the FBI agent that was demoted over those anti-Trump text messages, Peter Strzok, who has been fiercely accused of bias by a number of Republicans, also had a huge role into reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails just days before the 2016 election.

BERMAN: Our Manu Raju behind this exclusive. He joins us now from Capitol Hill. Manu, what have you learned?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. These e-mails that CNN has obtained shows Peter Strzok as he played this key role in the release of that letter saying to Congress that James Comey and the FBI were going to reopen the Hillary Clinton e- mail investigation.

Now according to the letter that we have obtained from October 27, 2016, he co-wrote with one of his colleagues the first draft of the letter that formed the basis of what Comey said to Congress the next day.

Separately we're told from a source familiar with his thinking that he supported reopening the investigation after those e-mails from Hillary Clinton were found on Anthony Weiner's laptop.

Now, this all comes as Peter Strzok has come under enormous scrutiny and criticism from Republicans because of those anti-Trump texts that he exchanged with Lisa Page, an FBI attorney with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Those texts turned over to Congress.

Republicans have seized on that to claim there was some anti-Trump bias. We are told he did have some private reservations about going public. Publicly with his colleagues, guys, he did support going forward with this investigation and play that role in releasing the letter that Hillary Clinton now blames for her loss in the 2016 elections -- guys.

[09:20:12] BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju with that exclusive. A lot of developments this morning. Let's bring back Shimon Prokupecz right now. Shimon, we know that Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee says that Republicans altered the memo before it went to the White House. You have some information about what these alterations might be?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, yes, we don't know specifically what these alterations are. But I can tell you from some people what the concern is, that this further delegitimizes some of the Russia investigation information, that these redactions don't paint a fuller picture of what the FBI, what intelligence they were dealing with, what information they were using to support some of these FISAs that they used in the investigation.

That is the ultimate concern here is that the entire story is not being told in these memos. Yes, FISA material is never, never made public. It never sees the light of day. There's a reason for this.

But certainly, when you take FISA material and dumb it down to favor your view, sort of the GOP view, there's even more concern here. Keep in mind, John and Poppy, this is not about sources and methods, that there's concern that anyone is going to reveal sources and methods. It's just that this is an unfair picture that this is information provided to the FBI and to the FISA court.

HARLOW: Understood. Shimon, appreciate the reporting. Thank you very much. Our panel is back. Guys let's get to this -- what could be bombshell reporting out of "The New York Times" this morning regarding Hope Hicks, someone we know has already sat down with Mueller's team, incredibly close to the president, was on Air Force One when that misleading initial statement was crafted about the Trump Tower meeting between the president's son, then campaign chairman and the Russian lawyer.

We know now the purpose of it was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. That's what e-mails shows later came about. But what "The New York Times" is reporting is that the spokesman for the lawyers at the time, Mark Corallo, is going to tell Mueller's team that Hope Hicks, the communications director told the president and told the president's son, that team, don't worry, these e-mails will never come out. Michael Zeldin, if that's the case, what is the significance of it?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it depends on what she meant by that. I'm prepared to accept innocence abroad. She is in a role that she has no prior qualifications to have --

HARLOW: Yes, but you're in the role, you are in the role.

ZELDIN: I get it. But what I'm saying -- the point I was going to get to is, if what she's saying is these are not likely to see the light of day because they're private e-mails, and she just doesn't understand the whole process, that's one thing.

If she's saying don't worry, I'll take care of it, ala Rosemary Woods and her deletions on tapes, I'll get rid of this evidence, that's something wholly different. Her lawyer says she didn't even make that statement.

So, neither interpretation is relevant because she didn't say it. However, of course, Corallo, the communications lawyer at the time or PR guy at the time, he is an experienced hand. He worked for Bush. So, he knows his way around, and he resigned not long after that.

So, there's something there that's important that has to be sorted out. We just don't know whether or not Hope Hicks had any sort of malevolent intent here or was just being naive.

But irrespective of what her jeopardy is, I still think it more importantly shows what the president is thinking because he's participating in that conversation and he's participating in the draft of it on Air Force One, despite his public denials to having no involvement in it.

BERMAN: James, as we know, it's illegal to lie to investigators, illegal to lie to the special counsel. It's not illegal to lie to the press or the American people, right. So, even if in the drafting of the memo, the president was involved, Hope Hicks was involved, and they were all involved with misleading the American people, why would it be of such interest to the special counsel?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think anything where there's deception potentially afoot, you'll want to get to the bottom of that. Again, we don't have an underlying scheme yet, but we do have violations of 1001, John, to your point, which is lying to FBI agents.

In this instance, Hope Hicks, the president, all these folks have to know in the 21st Century, digital exhaust. Every time you open your laptop, we know. So, you know those e-mails were going to be tracked down sooner or later. If there was a damning e-mail trail, why come out with something --

HARLOW: The question could be, are you trying to obstruct justice by saying these will never come out. That could make it very pertinent to Mueller.

BERMAN: And the "Times" is making the case that Mark Corallo is trying to convince the president -- Hope Hicks (inaudible) saying right there about that e-mail trail.

[09:25:13] All right, guys, thank you so much for being with us. Obviously, a lot going on, especially with this very public feud between the White House and the FBI with very potentially serious fallout including the careers of current public officials. What is the next shoe to drop in this?

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The Dow set to fall slightly at the open, after all three indices closed out their best month in two years. We'll have that next.

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