Return to Transcripts main page


U.S Official: FBI Still Has 'Grave Concern' About GOP Memo, The WH Editing It Doesn't Change The 'False Narrative'; CNN: Trump Sees GOP Memo As A Way To Discredit Russia Probe; White House Worried FBI Director Could Quit Over Memo Release; Nunes Accused of Making Memo Changes Before Trump Reviewed It; Interview with Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana; Lawyers for Former Trump Campaign Aide Suddenly Quit. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:00] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, all eyes on the White House tonight. The president set to approve that partisan GOP memo as the FBI warns, again, don't do it.

Plus, the same Republican behind the FBI secret society conspiracy theory is at it again. Demanding records from 16 more officials including Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe. Is it a witch hunt? And Trump says a top senator told him he's better than George Washington and Abe Lincoln. That's not what Orrin Hatch said at all. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the breaking news, awaiting the memo, we are waiting for President Trump's decision to release the highly controversial Nunes memo. That decision is expected at any moment. Trump, we know, has read and reviewed the memo.

The memo alleges abuse at the highest levels of the FBI and the Russia investigation, claiming specifically that the FBI misused information from the Trump dossier to obtain a surveillance warrant on the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. And the FBI tonight coming out again, doubling down on its warning, saying the agency still has grave concerns about the memo. A U.S. official tell CNN that even if the memo is redacted, you know, crucial pieces of information, are removed for national security reasons, it will not change the fact that it is a false narrative.

It's a pretty stunning thing to be from the intelligence community. It doesn't, though, appear to be stopping the president. Because all signs are that President Trump will approve the release of this partisan document. And multiple sources tell CNN that President Trump is telling allies, he believes the memo's release will help discredit the Russia investigation. Just think about that for a because it, of course, well, I mean, maybe it doesn't surprise you, but it's still pretty shocking for him to admit it. And, calls into question the House Speaker Paul Ryan's words today.


PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER, WISCONSIN: This memo is not indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general. What it is, is the Congress's legitimate function of oversight to make sure that the FISA process is being used correctly.


BURNETT: OK. He said it doesn't impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general. Really, Mr. Speaker? Because sources tell CNN that Trump is calling all those friends, saying that the memo is going to 2expose biases in the FBI's top ranks and make it easier for him to argue the Russia investigation is stacked against him. So, it's pretty clear that what the speaker says isn't the case in that part of this. And it's not just the phone calls from Trump. The president has made his views on FBI very clear, long before news of this memo even surfaced. You may remember Trump tweeted the bureau's reputation as "in tatters", the worst in history, saying this on tape.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's a shame what's happened with the FBI. But, we're going to rebuild the FBI. It'll be bigger and better than ever. But it is very sad when you look at those documents and how they have done that is really, really disgraceful.


BURNETT: Disgraceful. OK. Well, Paul Ryan may not be being upfront about this, but members of his own caucus are being much more upfront than their speaker, saying the memo absolutely is about indicting the FBI. Here's Republican Congressman Jeff Duncan who tweeted today, "Having read the memo, the FBI is right to have grave concerns as it will shake the organization down to its core, showing Americans just how the agency was weaponized by the Obama officials/DNC/HRC to target political adversaries."

That is an honest assessment. And tonight, even some Republicans are saying, slow down. Senator John Thune saying the White House "needs to pay careful attention to what our folks who protect us have to say about how this bears on our national security". And Senator Jeff Flake tonight is joining Democratic Senator Chris Coons to say, "President Trump should heed the warning of the Justice Department and FBI, and reverse his reported decision to release the memo. The president's apparent willingness to release this memo risks undermining U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts politicizing Congress' oversight role, and eroding confidence in our institutions of government."

So as we await the president's final decision, and that partisan memo is almost sure released, there are huge questions about the implications of the memo on the Russia investigation and Trump himself, because it is a gamble. After all, when then FBI director Comey reopened his investigation in Hillary Clinton just days before the election, and Democrats charged Comey with playing politics at the time. Sarah Sanders fired off this tweet, "when you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing". Pamela Brown is OUTFRONT tonight at the White House. Pamela, a fast

moving story. The president, we are awaiting this. He has made it very clear he wants this memo out. What happens now?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And tonight, Erin, the White House is moving closer to declassifying the Republican -- the House Republican's memo that essentially according to people who have seen it shows a mishandling of the Russia probe specifically by the FBI. So the White House essentially ignoring the president's handpicked FBI director's warnings yesterday.

[19:05:09] The statement saying that he had grave concerns about the release of this memo. Sources tell us that the president has read the memo, he chose not to discuss that in the ongoing feud with the FBI today as he came back from the retreat at the Greenbrier. But as you pointed out, he's been calling those close to him friends, associates, saying that he believes this memo will essentially undermine the Russia probe. You heard Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, say the exact opposite. Saying that he believes that this will not impugn the Russian probe.

But it's still a question of when this will be released, not if, Erin. It seems as though it's all but certain this will be released to the public. The review is still ongoing tonight. And we are told that this could come out as early as tomorrow. What would happen is the White House would then basically give House Republicans its blessing to then release this memo.

But one source telling us tonight that the situation is still very fluid, Erin. As you'll recall, we thought maybe today, the memo would be released and now they're saying tomorrow. We'll just have to wait and see if that actually happens.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Pamela. And OUTFRONT tonight, Richard Painter, White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library.

Gloria, we're possibly hours away from seeing this and you hear Pamela's reporting. It is not a matter of if at this point. It is a matter of when. Is there anyway the White House pulls back as you start to see a few Republicans say, ho ho ho (ph)?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't think so. Because I think it's what the president wants. I mean, this is a president who likes to use blunt force and he feels he's being attacked and I do believe this is about the Mueller investigation. I know from my own reporting that the president has told more than one friend that it is a way to kind of muddy the waters here. And that he believes that the FBI is corrupt, as he told one friend. And, that he's fighting back.

And so, this is not going to stop because the president wants it done and he is allowed to declassify whatever he wants.

BURNETT: I mean, Tim, it's pretty incredible. So the -- obviously, there's been his whole fight back and forth over whether certain parts of the memo will be redacted, right? Names removed or things like that for national security reasons. Obviously, the FBI is saying, even if you do that, it's still inaccurate, it's still not OK.

One senior mission (ph) official is telling the White House that they will do some redactions on national security concerns. Then later, someone from the White House reporters (ph) (INAUDIBLE) no, we're going to put it out, we're not going to redact anything at all. I mean, the whole point is we want you to see the names, is essentially what they're saying, right? We want you to know who made each decision.

What's happening here?

TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: What we're seeing is a coordinated attack by two branches of our government on the independence of the FBI. We have never seen this before. We've seen the executive branch go after the FBI when Richard Nixon was in power, although he didn't do it publicly. And we've seen Congress go against the FBI in the mid-1970s when the FBI was investigated for abuses under J. Edgar Hoover.

We have never seen a coordinated attack by two branches against the independence of the FBI. This should be a matter of grave concern for every American, because this is a test of whether in this country, we can have an independent investigation of the powerful. When the powerful are not happy about it.

BURNETT: Right. And that is the test results right now, Gloria. Right now, it's clear the president will do everything he can.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

BURNETT: And by the way --


BORGER: And he went to the Greenbrier today and said support law enforcement. And what's stunning politically is that it's Republicans who were attacking the FBI and the Democrats who are defending them. You know, a lot of times in our history, it's been the liberals who are saying, you know, the FBI is corrupt and the FBI plays games here.

But now, it's the Republicans following the lead of the president. And the president's narrative is about himself and about his own investigation. And he can't attack Bob Mueller frontally, and he won't. So what he's doing is taking a circuitous route and attacking everything around --


BORGER: -- Bob Mueller.

BURNETT: And getting the same (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: Including (ph) his investigators. BURNETT: I mean, Richard, what happens if this memo is released, and

obviously, the FBI saying redactions, or no, it's an accurate. But they want redactions. You know, if it released without any redactions, and we see the names of the individuals at the top of the FBI who made some of these decisions on the FISA warrant for Carter Page?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE ETHICS LAWYER FOR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, Vladimir Putin will find that information very helpful and continue to conduct his operations against the United States. Let's focus on what this is really all about. It's the equivalent of a search warrant, a FISA warrant, that go to a judge or they say, look, we've got the information that somebody is talking to the Russians. We want to do some surveillance here. We had issues with these FISA warrants under the Bush administration. And they certainly should dot the i's and cross the t's.

[19:10:03] But, whether or not the FBI did everything they should, I've got advice for Carter Page and the other Trump associates. If you don't want the FBI getting FISA warrants on you, don't hang around with Russian agents, meet with Russian agents to get the dirt on Hillary and return for release in the sanctions. If you do that, of course, the FBI is going to follow you. We don't like Russian agents coming into our country conducting an espionage. What's new?

And I'm a Republican. Robert Mueller is Republican. Most of us who are Republicans do not appreciate this administration undermining our national security by trying to destroy the FBI for doing its job.

BURNETT: One Republican and a very powerful and influential one, who is the leader, the house speaker of -- when you talk about Congress, the teaming (ph) of the president, Paul Ryan, he is more than onboard, Gloria. He is aiding and abetting, and he is the wingman for the president in a lot of ways. You just heard what Richard Painter said. You hear John Thune (ph) and you hear Jeff Flake.

Paul Ryan -- your reporting, the president says it's about undermining Robert Mueller's investigation. Well, Paul Ryan is coming out going, oh, no, it isn't, there's nothing to see here. Let me just play that again.


RYAN: What this is not is an indictment on our institutions of our justice system. This memo is not indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.


BURNETT: I mean, it's laughable, right?

BORGER: Okay, so he should talk to the president, because the president believes that it is. And that is why, you know, this is occurring. Don't forget, Paul Ryan is close to Devin Nunes, and some people have said that their closeness has affected his -- Paul Ryan's judgment on this.

But, Paul Ryan, there's no doubt about it, he has put himself out there on this. And, you know, maybe he's grown closer to the president.

BURNETT: I mean, because he believe what he's saying there (INAUDIBLE) --

BORGER: I have to assume he is.

BURNETT: -- that because I'm trying to help you when you're telling --

BORGER: I have to assume he is.

NAFTALI: History is not going to be kind to Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan has sent signals that he's going to retire.


NAFTALI: He will be remembered very badly for this, because what's at issue here is whether when a foreign adversary intervenes in our elections, are we capable as Republicans and Democrats and Americans to think about protecting our elections first. That's what means -- that's what putting America first means. And Paul Ryan should understand that.

And this memo business is an attempt to obscure what's really going on. You don't need the Carter Page investigation to have a predicate for the FBI to undertake a counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.


NAFTALI: You have the Papadopoulos story.

BURNETT: Right. You know, and by the way, Carter Page had been comportingwith Russian agents for years --

BORGER: For years.

BURNETT: -- during the Trump campaign. So, you know, the Trump campaign that Carter Page be linked to Russian agents. Which are the point, though, of the Sarah Sanders tweet which she's criticizing Democrats when they said Comey was political for reopening the Clinton investigation before the general election. She said, "When you're attacking FBI agents because you're under criminal investigation, you're losing."

President is under -- well, the Trump administration is under investigation. Obviously, he's attacking the FBI. His goal is to discredit the Russia investigation though. Is he losing or is he winning?

PAINTER: Well, no, he's -- the only person winning is Vladimir Putin. They're laughing over on the Kremlin tonight. And we have an intelligence operation with the FBI, the CIA, that for years has been very effective at keeping Russian agents out of our country from subverting our government as they sought to do since the 1917 Russian revolution. It's the same old game.

And now we have the president of the United States with assistance of high-ranking members of Congress attacking our FBI, undermining what they're doing, because they say that -- you know, they didn't dot the i's, cross the t's on a FISA warrant on Carter Page. The problem was hanging around with Russian agents. And we know about the Russian agents in the Trump Tower. What I want to know is why the FBI didn't tell us about the Russian agents in the Trump Tower in June of 2016? That's the real scandal.

BORGER: You know, I was talking to a source, though, who said to me there is a growing feeling that there may have been too much of a drum roll affiliated with this memo now that it's dragged out for days. And that we don't know what's in the memo. But if the memo isn't shocking, it could kind of boomerang on the president or it could wind up being a pass on both your houses with both sides looking disastrous, because they've been fighting over --

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) or whatever.

BORGER: But we don't know why --


BORGER: -- but there has been such buildup to this.


BORGER: Well, there is a little bit of concern inside the White House, will this, you know, will this deliver.

NAFTALI: My concern is that Rod Rosenstein resigns or is fired as a result of this. And that this is the reason for the memo.

BURNETT: Right. And of course, Rosenstein now oversees Mueller so someone else could come in and oversee Mueller and everybody can figure out what the path of that might be.

[19:15:02] OUTFRONT next, will the FBI director quit if the memo is released because you'll hear what Christopher Wray said today. And Democrats are accusing Nunes of making edits to the memo before sending it to Trump. So what really changed?

And breaking news in the Mueller probe, attorneys for a key's fair (ph) in the Trump campaign suddenly completely abruptly, three of them just saying they're out. They're withdrawing from the case.


BURNETT: Breaking news, the FBI doubling down tonight on its concerns about the release of the highly controversial partisan Nunes memo. An official telling CNN the FBI still has "grave concerns" if the president releases the memo. And they're saying it's still fundamentally inaccurate. It comes as top White House aides are said to be worried that FBI director Christopher Wray could quit if the memo is made public. That's a pretty stunning thing.

Evan Perez is OUTFRONT live in Washington. I mean, Evan, you know, you think about that that would be two FBI directors, usually a term of 10 years each, in nine months. I mean, just to kind of put an explanation point out. And what were you learning tonight?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I think that's the level of frustration that the White House has now sensed from Chris Wray. This is the man that the president chose as his FBI director. And as you said, he was supposed to be there for 10 years. And the view of the White House was that he was going to help turn around the agency. And his view is simply that they're not listening to him. This is an unusual statement that the FBI put out yesterday, which sided those grave concerns.

They said that there were omissions of facts that really made this memo inaccurate and false.

[19:20:06] And so, that frustration have been voiced very strongly by the FBI, by the Justice Department. And that's reason why over the last 24 hours, we've heard from White House officials that there was some concern inside that perhaps Chris Wray might quit.

Now, if you know Chris Wray, he's an understated guy. He's not someone who's going to threaten like that. And we don't really expect he is going to resign over this, but it does show you the level of frustration that he has been showing simply because they seemed to not be listening to him. You heard today from White House officials that they're trying to make some redactions hoping that that tams down some of this concern from the FBI. We're still told that the FBI has the same concerns because, again, the problems with the memo are omissions not something that redactions will be able to cure, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Evan. Right, I mean, the material omission is a fact that make it inaccurate. The more you take out, you're not actually putting those things in, just to make the point Evan is making.

Kirsten Powers is with me now, USA Today columnist and Mike Rogers, retired FBI special agent, former chair of the House Intel Committee also here.

I mean, Mike, do you think the White House is taking the FBI warning seriously enough, because as you hear, the understanding as of now, this is a matter of when, not if. It's not going to change his mind at least as far as anyone understands right now?

MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Yes, and from what I'm hearing, this is a done deal. It's coming out tomorrow, probably in the morning. So I don't. I think -- and what's really so concerning about this for me is that even if my Republican colleagues or former colleagues believed that there were some kind of misconduct in the application for the FISA warrant, is this the way you get oversight? They keep saying this is about oversight. I just candidly don't understand that, because you're going to get all the information. It's impossible to get all the information.

As a matter of fact, all the members that voted on it, none of them read the -- or most of them did not read the application for the FISA warrant, which is -- which would tell you how much information went in to get it. So, it would show you that maybe you're not given the whole picture. And I just think if the FBI director comes out, which is unprecedented.


ROGERS: And then the FBI Agents Association comes out and says, yes, we're with him, you know, maybe we ought to slow down here and start thinking there's a better way to accomplish what you're trying to accomplish if you really believe that there was something wrong with that FISA application.

BURNETT: I mean, Kirsten, if the president goes through with this, as Mike is saying, unprecedented and, you know, Mike had served on the transition team, he's saying it's a done deal, it's coming out probably tomorrow morning. Here is what exchange I wanted to play for you. During Christopher Wray's confirmation hearing to be the second FBI director under President Donald Trump, here he is at this hearing in July.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: That the president asked you to do something unlawful or unethical, what do you say?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: First, I would try to talk him out of it. And if that failed, I would resign.


BURNETT: He's tried to talk him out of it. So does he resign? I mean, how bad would it be if the president were to -- have two FBI directors gone in nine months?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, USA TODAY: I think it would be really bad, especially because he's spoken very highly of Wray. The White House has put out a statement recently saying that, you know, he has the highest character. So this isn't somebody that he's kind of -- they've sort of made him the good guy, right? There's other (ph) bad people in the FBI but then we have Christopher Wray, we think he have the utmost respect for him.

So, what does that mean if he resigns? Now, this conversation is going to be so easier once the memo is out, right? Because we don't know really know what's in the memo. If you want to take the White House at face value or take the Republicans at face value, they claim it's going to show this bias by the FBI. So, it would make sense the FBI wouldn't want it to come out. That's their argument.

Other people are saying Axios is reporting that a lot of people in the White House are saying actually it's going to be kind of a nothing burger. So, we have to wait and see what it actually shows. The problem is, is we keep discussing it's based on underlying information that we can't see. It's likely cherry-picked and we know what happens when you cherry-pick information, you can basically tell any story that you want.

BURNETT: Well, and that's the thing. That's -- so the point you're making and, Mike, you were saying, right, you could have a 50, 80 page, who knows what it might have been, FISA application and you cherry-pick on the summary two points that you don't like and leave out the other, you know, 49 pages and you can create a totally different picture than reality if you wanted to do so.

Mike, the former FBI director Jim Comey came out and tweeted tonight and I wanted to quote, "All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart, American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy."

What do you say, Mike, do you think he's going too far? I mean, the weasels and liars is about as thinly veiled as you could get.

ROGERS: I do. I wish the former director would kind of just stay out of it candidly. And the reason I say that is it's not helping the current crop of FBI folks who are trying to get through all of this political mess.

[19:25:02] And it's probably not very encouraging to the political folks who hated Jim Comey that got him terminated in the first place. And so, interjecting yourself continually in this political debate for the former director, given all of the circumstances, I just don't think is a good idea. And I would hope he'd reconsider that and, you know, I know he's doing some teaching and other things, I wish he'd focus on that.

This has to get through the system. It has to pass. You cannot continue to politicize the FBI. And as I -- I love Paul Ryan but when he comes out and says this isn't about all of the FBI, he needs to tell his members that they ought to get on that same bandwidth too. Because they're all talking about all the whole FBI is corrupt and the whole place is bad. And that will impact FBI agents who are on the streets today trying to bring bad guys to justice.

BURNETT: Kirsten.

POWERS: Oh, I think it's incredibly childish and Washington is in real need of grown ups and these kinds of tweets just, I don't think, helps anything. And I think if anything, it gives ammunition to people who are saying that James Comey is a hack and he has a perspective. And --

BURNETT: And bias, yes.

POWERS: Yes, and he doesn't like Donald Trump. So what -- you know, I just feel like let's -- you know, let's just all try to be grown ups for five minutes. Just because the president behaves the way he behaves, I don't think that's licensed for everybody else to start sort of eeping (ph) that.

BURNETT: Right. Thank you both very much.

Next, breaking news, attorneys for the indicted or indicted Trump campaign aide suddenly dropping the case, their words, abruptly, their own words, why, three of them gone tonight. And the president bragging big time today.


TRUMP: Spectacular man, Orrin Hatch, he actually once said I'm the greatest president in the history of our country, and I said does that include Lincoln and Washington. He said, yes.


BURNETT: Well, Senator Hatch had to come out and say, I didn't say that. We'll tell you the story.


BURNETT: Breaking news, the last-minute attempt to stop the Nunes memo from being released, Republican Senator Jeff Flake, Democratic Chris Coons, appealing to the president to listen to the advice of his Justice Department and FBI. This is the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee accuses Congressman Nunes making changes to the GOP memo before sending it to President Trump and not telling anybody about it.

[19:30:10] Senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is OUTFRONT.

And, Manu, first, you are learning more about what changed in the Nunes from when Democrats saw it until it went to the president.

This is obviously a crucial question. What are you finding out?


Tonight, top Democratic official on that committee actually says there have been five material changes that were made to the Nunes memo, changes they did not see, were not aware of at the time of that committee vote on Monday. They say it was significant beyond just the grammatical changes, the typographical errors that were sent -- that were fixed, there are other significant substantive changes.

Now when I went to Devin Nunes' office and asked him, is that true, they did not respond. But last night, Devin Nunes spokesman put out a statement saying that there two changes they made at the request of the FBI and of Democrats, and they have downplayed other changes as very minor, very technical in nature.

So, this much they agree on. There were changes, Erin, and one thing that we have also learned is that when House members were reviewing this memo, they were not reviewing the memo with the changes. They, in fact, were reviewing the memo before revised and before that version was sent to the White House.

Now, Democrats have been pushing for a revote in the committee, saying they did not approve the version that at the president's desk was being reviewed right now. But that is something the Republicans have rejected including House Speaker Paul Ryan says the changes were just a result of scrubbing after consultation that Devin Nunes had with the FBI.

But we know that concerns are much more serious and really under scores, Erin, the unprecedented nature of this process leading to the likelihood that this will be declassified as soon as tomorrow, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you, very much, Manu.

And OUTFRONT now, Congressman Andre Carson. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee which, of course, where both the Nunes and Schiff memos, which is Democratic sort of rebuttal memo that at this point that we're not going to see comes from.

Thank you very much, Congressman. I appreciate your time.

So, you know, your committee produced both of these memos. Have you seen the changed version of the Nunes memo at this point?

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D-IN), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I've not seen the changed version. I've only seen both the Republican and Democrat memos that were approved by the committee. But I'm deeply concerned, Erin.

BURNETT: So, in terms of these material changes, you know, you heard Manu, senior Democrat official saying there were five material changes. Congressman Nunes' office, the chairman, they responded last night saying oh, it was grammatical, and there two changes, one at the request of Democrats, one at request of the FBI, which if anything should be in favor of what Democrats wanted.

I mean, two incredibly different versions. Do you know what to believe? Something really change? Or something didn't really change?

CARSON: Well, I mean, look, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Given the history of the chairman, I think the chairman is putting his own political interests ahead of the committee's interest. And he has to be reminded that we operate within a separate but equal branch of government. We don't work for President Trump.

And so, his actions concern me, especially given our committee is charged with overseeing the intel community, I'm deeply concerned, because we are jeopardizing our national security in the process.

BURNETT: So, Chairman Nunes who has recused himself from the Russian investigation, nonetheless, is the guy the memo is named after, he is going to sign his name to it. Obviously, he did not read the background intelligence that the memo purports to summarize. His staff read it. They wrote the memo. And when Nunes himself was directly asked by your colleague

Congressman Quigley if his staff worked with the White House on the memo, Nunes responded, quote, I would just answer as far as I know, no. He didn't say no. He says as far as I know, there's a dodged of the question.

Do you know whether Nunes' staff coordinated with the White House on this?

CARSON: I cannot speak to that, nor will I speak to that. But what I'll say is that this is embarrassing. It's unfortunate.

I think the Republicans and Democrats who work on the committee serve very honorably. We signed a document subjecting our self to charges of treason and even death if we were to reveal top secret information. It's a responsibility I take very seriously. It's a responsibility most of us take very seriously.

So, to deal with this issue in a very careless way, I think it tells me that we perhaps need to look at new leadership as it relates to the intel community.

BURNETT: So, Congressman, we've heard some Republicans say this memo is going to show corruption in the FBI. Plenty of them have been quick to jump on that bandwagon. We have reported that the president himself has called multiple friends and allies to say that he thinks the release of this memo will discredit Bob Mueller's Russia investigation.

[19:35:02] Speaker Ryan, though, came out today and said none of this is true. That's not what this is about at all. Here he is.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What this is not is an indictment on our institutions, of our justice system. This memo is not indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.


BURNETT: Congressman, do you believe the speaker is sincere?

CARSON: I hope so. I'm more concerned about this memo and this information and the underlying information being minimized and trivialized and subjected to look as if it's just an attempt at opposition research. I think we are risking and jeopardizing the lives of people in the Justice Department and FBI and those who put their lives on the line to keep Americans safe.

And so, we can't minimize this to just look like opposition research. We have to really look at this very critically and allow our national security to be safe and sound.

BURNETT: Thank you very much, Congressman Carson. I appreciate your time. CARSON: What an honor.

BURNETT: And next, breaking news, a sudden shakeup to the legal team of a former Trump campaign aide indicted in a Mueller probe, three of his attorneys, are abruptly, their word withdrawing from his case.

And the Republican senator who peddled the FBI secret society conspiracy theory now is pushing new anti-FBI strategy. Wait until you hear exactly what he wants now.


[19:40:16] BURNETT: Breaking news, a major development in the Robert Mueller investigation tonight. Three attorneys for former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, Paul Manafort's deputy, suddenly withdrawing from the case.

Now, you may remember, Gates has been indicted, indicted by a grand jury in October. He has pleaded not guilty to eight charges, including money laundering and foreign lobbying. But now, all of a sudden, in their own words, abruptly, three of his lawyers are out.

Jessica Schneider is OUTFONT.

And, I mean, Jessica, it is incredibly abrupt. That's three of his attorneys. What are you learning about the shake-up?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, you know, this could be an idea that changing legal strategies. So, these are the attorneys that have carried him through the first three months of this case. They are out. They're the ones who helped him entered that not guilty plea. They actually just got him released from house arrest.

So, the reason though for departure is still unclear. So, they filed the reason under seal. Meaning, it cannot be seen by the public. And here's the one thing that they are saying. Here's their statement. They say undersigned counsel here by move to withdraw as counsel of record in this case effective immediately. That's about all we've got.

So, in their place though, we learned that the prominent white collar criminal attorney Tom Green, he is in. He's representative former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and he is known to fight to trial. But he's also a well-versed attorney at cutting plea deals. In fact, attorneys from Green's firm, they've been seen in the past week or so entering the building where the special counsel's team is based.

So, Erin, the question tonight is with this change in attorney, the fact they have been to Mueller's offices, could Rick Gates be ready to cooperate now that he has this brand new team?

BURNETT: And what about the significance of that? If that's what this is and he's ready to cooperate and essentially turn, what do we have to offer, Jessica? SCHNEIDER: Rick Gates, he was front and center during the campaign.

He was brought on by Paul Manafort, his deputy campaign manager, and then he stayed on even when Paul Manafort left three months before the election. So, it's interesting here because if Rick Gates were to possibly strike a plea deal, he would be the third person to offer cooperation and information to Mueller's team. Of course, along with Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos.

And what's interesting here as well, Rick Gates was forwarded that email from George Papadopoulos about Russians wanting to meet with Donald Trump. So, Erin, Rick Gates could potentially offer Mueller more information on how that offer was received within the campaign, what might have been done with it.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much. Obviously, possibly very significant as Jessica points out under seal in terms for the reason for the abrupt departure. Thank you.

And next, the key Republican playing hardball with the FBI, now demanding records from top officials. He's the same senator who pushed the secret society conspiracy theory.

And Trump boasting again, this time about a 13-year-old commercial starring Melania.


[19:46:56] BURNETT: New tonight, we await that memo. And there is memo hysteria. Hysteria is at fever pitch, because we are likely just hours away from the president approving the release of the controversial GOP memo.

Tonight, Senator Ron Johnson firing another shot at the intelligence community. He's now asking the Department of Justice to turn over communications related to 16 top current and former officials. And that includes the former FBI Director Jim Comey.

OUTFRONT now, Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent for "The Nation", and Rich Lowry, "National Review" editor.

OK. There's a lot to talk about tonight, because I'm very excited to talk about the president and Orrin Hatch claims.

But let's start with Ron Johnson and what he said. I just want to remind everybody about the secret society claim that he made first and then he had to backtrack off of it. Here he is.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: What this is all about is further evidence of corruption, more than bias, but corruption at the highest levels of the FBI. And that secret society, we have an informant talking about a group that were holding secret meetings off-site.

RAJU: Text message seems to be common about secret society was in jest. Do you agree it appears to be in jest? JOHNSON: It's a real possibility.


JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: I mean, he looked like a fool. You would really think in the wake of something like that, you might take a week or two and try to develop a strategy for what makes the most sense. How do you not go off half cocked about some of these allegations?

But, no, he's come back for more. And I just think this is such a fishing expedition. It's a witch hunt. We learned last night that Peter Strzok, the agent at the heart of this texting scandal, was in fact the guy who wrote the letter arguing to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation when they found those new -- what they thought were new, they were old emails on Anthony Weiner's computer.

And, Erin, I'm also getting to the point I don't know why Democrats aren't asking for more texts to be released. What about texts between Rudy Giuliani and the New York office of the FBI, because Rudy was telling Fox News in October that he knew something was coming down the pike, and it was pretty well established, that he -- that there were people leaking, that he had friends in the bureau. Let's see their text messages with Rudy Giuliani.

BURNETT: I mean, Rich, I guess that's just two questions here. One, is this a can of worms that should be opened? Because there are people in the FBI who probably -- well, they all have personal bias, most people do. But maybe even a professional bias on both sides.

But if you are going to I want this 16, is this worth it?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Yes, look, big general point, any investigation of this nature of a president of the United States inherently becomes political and becomes part of a partisan fight. I'm old enough to remember the 1990s when Ken Starr started his investigation into Bill Clinton as widely respected legal professional. He ended it in the eyes of Clinton sex crazed pervert. So, it's not unusual that you have parties on differing sides of investigation of this nature.

And, two, there are legitimate questions about the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton which seems as far as I can tell, to have been determined to give her a clean bill of health legally, and determined not to recommend an indictment no matter what.


[19:50:11] LOWRY: And a special counsel investigation.

Well, look, there are questions like did the I.G. of the Department of Justice who is not a partisan Republican which I'm aware of, is investigating how the FBI handled the Clinton case, especially the role of Andrew McCabe, who I think any reasonable person would say, if your wife is getting donations from a Clinton ally, you should recuse yourself, and he didn't until right until to the end and might have peddled --

WALSH: He's a Republican.

LOWRY: But you -- that doesn't create an appearance of impropriety if your wife is getting money from the political operation associated with the person you're supposed to be investigating? Of course, it does.

WALSH: He disclosed it at every step of the way. We've got a paper trail.

I just want to go back to what you said about Ken Starr, though. I mean, first of all, I think the Clinton investigation was trumped up. It was about sex, we never should have gone there. We're going to disagree about that.

But the thing is Ken Starr actually was a very partisan conservative Republican. Robert Mueller is a Republican. Andy McCabe voted Republican. Rod Rosenstein now, we don't know if he's Republican but he was appointed by Donald Trump himself. Jim Comey, Republican.

This whole group of people, they are Republicans investigating --


LOWRY: But Ken Starr every step of the way goes and gets authorization from Clinton's Department of Justice. And the Democrats give him any consideration, any leeway? No, they attacked him personally.

BURNETT: OK. I want to just -- I want to talk about something the president said today.

LOWRY: We could go on about the '90s.


BURNETT: We could do it. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that I have something so incredible. The president today was saying something that were not true.


BURNETT: That's why I don't call it breaking news, OK? But he was saying something about Orrin Hatch. And said Orrin Hatch said he was the greatest president in American history. And just I want to play the president here at the Republican outfit.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Orrin is -- I love listening to him speak. He said once I am the single greatest president in his lifetime. Now, he's a young man, so it's not that much, but -- and he actually once said I'm the greatest president in the history of our country, and I said does that include Lincoln and Washington? And he said yes. I said I love this guy. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Here's the thing about Trump. It was detailed. He said this and I said this and I said Washington and Lincoln, he said, yes, and then Orrin Hatch, I mean, I don't know, his phone must have blown up, he had to come out and go, no, I didn't say that at all. His aide said Senator Hatch said he would like to work with the president to make this one of the greatest presidencies in history for the American people.

So, Rich --

LOWRY: Yes, if you look at that original Orrin Hatch statement which was at the White House at a big ceremony, in itself it was over the top, right? Most people would just be pleased to have a long-standing senator say, I'm going to make you the best president ever, but with President Trump he goes back to his nature as a real estate developer in New York who thought if he wasn't exaggerating everything, it wasn't good.

WALSH: But also goes back to his nature --

BURNETT: Exaggeration or a lie?


WALSH: -- a better liar. I mean, to throw in the details about Lincoln and Washington.

BURNETT: Right, the exchange. I said this and --

WALSH: It is just the instinct of a liar, a man who going back to real estate lied about how much money he made, stiffed the subcontractors who worked with him in the tri-state area, I mean, lied about why he couldn't release his tax returns, said he would and then he wouldn't, lied about that. I mean lied about the "Access Hollywood" tape even though first he admitted and then he said, wait, I'm going to lie because I can get away with it. He's a liar.

BURNETT: By the way, as I end, he also tweeted today that his State of the Union was the most highest number in history and I just want to confirm it was the sixth highest rated in history.

LOWRY: Still pretty, but not quiet the highest.


BURNETT: Next, Jeanne Moos on Melania and the bride of Frankenstein.


BURNETT: It's Throwback Thursday, and President Trump is bragging about that time Melania was in, quote, a commercial.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When an employee from the insurance company Aflac handed the president socks adorned with the Aflac duck, it triggered a memory.

TRUMP: A long time ago hired my wife to do a big commercial. Do you know that? An Aflac commercial. And I think it was a successful commercial too.

MOOS: Little did they know they were taking the voice of the future first lady and swapping it with the voice of a duck.

Imagine her squawking at the swearing in.

D. TRUMP: So help me God.

VOICE: Aflac.

MOOS: The Trumps were newlyweds when the spot was made and Donald described to Larry King what the ad folks told Aflac CEO.

D. TRUMP: Now, we're going to supply you with like 25 women and you can choose the one you want. He said, no, I don't want to look at anybody. I want Trump's wife.

MOOS: She came, too, with webbed feet.

MELANIA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S WIFE: It was a great success. I had a great time to shoot it.

MOOS: But a flack is something Donald Trump has also been. He's flacked in lots of commercials.

D. TRUMP: So, we lick race for it right here.

A remarkable convenience of the Visa check card.

A big and tasty for just a dollar.

You got to be losing money on this.

IVANA TRUMP: May I have the last slice?

D. TRUMP: Actually, you're only entitled to half.

MOOS: Ivana and Donald shared that pie three years after their divorce. His current wife or at least someone pretending to be her was hawking something else on the late show.

STEPHEN COLBERT, LATE NIGHT HOST: How are you feeling, Madam First Lady?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My life is ocean of loneliness.

COLBERT: What? I'm sorry, what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was just promoting my new fragrance, ocean of loneliness.

MOOS: For Melania, it seems like life has been a roller coaster lately, given what's been reported about Donald and we don't mean the duck.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


MOOS: All right. Thanks so much for joining us. You can watch the show anytime. Just go -- when you go to CNN Go. We'll see you back here tomorrow night, and we'll see if we have that memo. It could be out as soon as just a few hours from now in the early hours of the morning.

"AC360" starts right now.