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Interview With Delaware Senator Chris Coons; White House Communications Director Under Fire in Russia Probe; Will FBI Director Quit Over Republican Memo Release?; Trump to Okay Release of GOP Memo "Probably Tomorrow". Aired 6-7p ET
Aired February 1, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Taking on Trump. After the FBI's stunning public warning to president, will Christopher Wray protest the memo's release by quitting his job? That possibility is making insiders very nervous tonight.
Homing in on Hope. The special counsel is sharpening his focus on one of the president's closest advisers, as he investigates possible obstruction of justice. New reporting tonight that Hope Hicks promised Mr. Trump that potentially incriminating e-mails would -- quote -- "never get out."
And Stormy cancellations. Why did the porn star nix a high-profile TV appearance, even as she scrambles to cash in on her alleged past affair with the president? New questions about Stormy Daniels' strategy and whether a payoff in play.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, an astonishing confrontation between the president and his hand-picked FBI director may boil over within hours.
Mr. Trump is expected to approve the release of a very controversial GOP memo as soon as tomorrow. And we are told top White House aides fear that'll prompt Christopher Wray to quit as FBI chief. Wray has publicly made it clear that he believes the memo and its allegations of FBI misconduct are misleading.
And CNN has learned that Mr. Trump is privately making it clear that he thinks this memo will discredit the entire Russia investigation.
This hour, I will talk to Senate Judiciary Committee member Chris Coons. And our correspondent and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
What is the latest, Jeff?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are learning today that the president has been telling his friends and allies in telephone calls in recent days that he believes the release of this memo will show that the agency the FBI has been prejudiced against him. And he believes it will help discredit the Russia investigation.
That is one central reason we're told he's leaning towards releasing the memo as early as tomorrow.
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump not talking tonight about the extraordinary feud raging with the FBI.
QUESTION: Mr. President, have you decided if you will release the memo?
ZELENY: As the president moving closer to declassifying a highly controversial House Republican memo accusing federal authorities of mishandling the Russia probe, CNN has learned top White House aides are worried FBI Director Christopher Wray could quit in protest for disregarding warnings against releasing the memo.
He's made his frustration clear, officials say, but has not directly threatened to resign. After returning from the GOP congressional retreat in West Virginia today, the president not answering questions about the FBI director.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you worried the FBI director may quit over this decision?
ZELENY: Tonight, CNN has also learned the president has told friends in recent phone calls the memo could help discredit the Russia investigation by exposing bias within the top ranks of the FBI.
But not all Republicans agree.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: 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.
ZELENY: The latest showdown between the president and his own Justice Department is roiling Washington, a day after the FBI warned of grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.
The White House downplaying the magnitude of those concerns. The president and advisers have reviewed the three-and-a-half page memo to make sure it does not give away too much in terms of classifications, a senior administration said, who added that on Friday the White House will tell Congress the president is OK with it.
The White House have gone to great lengths trying to show due diligence, even after the president was captured on camera after the State of the Union Tuesday night suggesting releasing the memo was a foregone conclusion.
REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's release the memo.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, yes. Don't worry, 100 percent. Can you imagine it?
ZELENY: As Democrats join the Justice Department and the FBI in saying the release of the memo could pose a national security risk, House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the concerns.
RYAN: What the memo is, Congress is doing its job and conducting legitimate oversight over a very unique law, FISA. And if mistakes were made and if individuals did something wrong, then it is our job as the legislative branch of government to conduct oversight over the executive branch if abuses were made.
ZELENY: The memo poured even more fuel on the already politically combustible House Intelligence Committee.
Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff accusing the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, of altering the document, writing: "It is clear that the majority made material changes to the version it sent to the White House, which committee members were never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review and never approved."
Nunes, a close ally of the president's who served on the Trump transition team admitted editing the document. But a committee spokesperson called the complaint a bizarre distraction, insisting that changes were limited to grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and the minority themselves.
Democrats blasted the president's decision and vowed to keep the investigation alive.
REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Despite the fact that he claims innocence and that there is no collusion, there is an ongoing effort by this president and by the White House to completely discredit, to stop, to end this critical investigation, which is the only way he's going to prove his innocence, by the way, which is the bizarre thing here.
ZELENY: The White House has been talking throughout the day about making small changes to this memo, possibly redacted some information.
It looks like there will not be any major redactions. At least that's the word of an administration official. But there have been some accommodations made to the FBI to try and ease their concern.
But we are told tonight by a U.S. government official the FBI has not changed its position from yesterday at all. Wolf, let's take a look at this new statement from this U.S. government official.
He says this: "It sounds like this is a spin to justify the release of the memo. There are still grave concerns about this memo." Again, grave concerns, the same language yesterday from the FBI.
Wolf, just a few moments ago, we are also hearing from the former FBI Director, fired FBI Director James Comey, who's weighing in trying to defend and protect his old department in a tweet.
He says this: "All should appreciate that the FBI is 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 as long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy."
Wolf, some extraordinary, strong words tonight from James Comey, the FBI director, as this confrontation between the White House, the Justice Department and the FBI heads to an escalation point tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly extraordinary, indeed, what is going on right now.
Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.
Now to another major breaking story in this Russia investigation involving one of the president's most trusted advisers, Hope Hicks, the communications director at the White House, and possible obstruction of justice.
Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is here with us.
Jim, this all leads back to that infamous Trump Tower meeting and a misleading attempt to explain what happened.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
We know this is a line inquiry for the special counsel because witnesses who have been interviewed by him have been asked questions about both this Trump meeting, where you have Donald Trump Jr. being offered dirt on Hillary Clinton by a Russian lawyer, but also what followed that meeting, an attempt to obscure what the actual subject of discussion was in that room. And then that raising a question of possible obstruction of justice.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Special counsel Robert is now scrutinizing a meeting between President Trump and his aides on Air Force One last year as part of the probe into whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation.
Former Trump legal team spokesman Mark Corallo is expected to be asked about it when he's interviewed by Mueller's team in the next two weeks. CNN has previously reported that the president helped craft a misleading explanation for a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russia lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The statement claimed the meeting was primarily about Russia's adoption policy, though e-mails from Trump Jr. contradicted that explanation. "The New York Times" is citing three people with knowledge of Corallo's forthcoming interview who say that he is planning to tell the special counsel that White House Communications Director Hope Hicks told President Trump that those e-mails -- quote -- "will never get out."
That comment led Corallo to believe that Hicks was considering obstructing justice.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's very conceivable that he may have that corroborating information to avoid that he/said scenario. And that's what the Mueller team is going to look for.
SCIUTTO: Hicks' lawyer denied the account, saying in a statement to CNN -- quote -- "She never said that. And the idea that has Hope Hicks ever suggested that e-mails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false."
CNN has learned there is new evidence the president may have attempted to interfere with law enforcement. According to sources familiar with the meeting, Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in December where the Russia investigation was headed and whether he was "on my team."
Soon after, Rosenstein testified to Congress that he was not asked to pledge his allegiance to the president.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, U.S. DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge, other than oath of office.
SCIUTTO: Both the FBI and the Department of Justice have declined to comment.
Sources tell CNN that Trump has repeatedly vented recently about wanting to fire Rosenstein, though it remains unclear if he's willing to take such an extraordinary step, particularly given the backlash he faced after dismissing Comey.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: It shows the president's complete misapprehension and miscomprehension about the role of the Department of Justice. It is not his team. Rod Rosenstein serves the American people. The Justice Department is not Donald Trump's department.
SCIUTTO: The special counsel's interest in that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, plus what followed it, the misleading statement to explain what was discussed in that room, that interest raises a question, because, Wolf, as you know, lying to a journalist via a statement, that's not a crime.
What is it about the meeting and what followed, the president's involvement, why in particular would that raise questions of obstruction of justice? It is an intriguing question. Is there something else that the special counsel has heard from other witnesses about the president's involvement or about other involvement, for instance, Hope Hicks, that raises more serious obstruction of justice questions?
That's something we will only learn when the special counsel comes forward.
BLITZER: And we know he knows a lot more about all of this than any of us. We will be anxious to hear what he knows and what he does.
Thanks very much, Jim Sciutto, for that.
Let's talk a little bit more about the Russian probe and the controversial Republican memo with Senator Chris Coons. He's a Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Thank you, Wolf. Great to be on again.
BLITZER: All right, so you just put out an important statement, a bipartisan statement, with Republican Senator Flake.
Tell us about that statement, what is in it and what you guys want.
COONS: Well, Republican Senator Jeff Flake and I, he's the chairman -- I'm the ranking member of one of the subcommittees on Judiciary -- put out a statement urging the president to change course, to not release this memo tomorrow, because, as we state, we think it would undermine our intelligence gathering, it would further politicize Congress' oversight role, and it risks reducing confidence in key democratic institutions.
This House memo that has been championed, it's been read -- excuse me -- it's been authored and it's been edited by Devin Nunes -- is based on misleading and impartial readings of the intelligence.
And there are strenuous objections to its release from the Department of Justice and the FBI. You have heard from a lot of different folks on this show tonight and across the course of the day about how this could impact sources and methods in intelligence gathering, about why it is breaking apart the longstanding bipartisan commitment to oversight of the intelligence community, and why this further erodes our democratic institutions.
It is striking, Wolf, that we have got a president of the United States willing to take on the FBI and its leadership, willing to take on the Department of Justice and its leadership simply in an effort to try and further discredit Robert Mueller's ongoing probe.
BLITZER: I know Republican Senator John Thune, he does not want this memo to be released. He's the number three Republican in the Republican leadership.
Are there other Republicans on your committee, elsewhere who agree with you and Thune and Flake and say, don't do this, Mr. President?
COONS: There are Republican senators who both publicly and privately have expressed concern.
Senator Thune raise the issue that the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Chairman Richard Burr of that committee, has not been able to get a copy of this brief four-page memo from Congressman Nunes and have the opportunity to review it against the underlying intelligence.
Typically, for decades, we have had real bipartisan cooperation and respect between the Intelligence Committees in the Senate and the House, and they have cooperated to make sure we don't put at risk key pieces of our intelligence-gathering apparatus, like the FISA court like the procedures by which Congress receives information and how we treat it that is a piece of our oversight role.
I have heard from a number of Republican colleagues, Wolf, that they are very concerned about the secondary consequences of the release of this memo for our ongoing working relationship with the intelligence community of the United States and with partner intelligence agencies around the world.
BLITZER: Friendly governments who cooperate in the intelligence gathering process. That's a real threat, according to both the FBI and the Justice Department. We saw the letters from the attorney, the assistant attorney general.
A U.S. official tell our own Jessica Schneider, by the way, Senator, that there is still grave concern over at the FBI today about the memo, that there may be some editing, some redacting of the text. But it does not change the concern that this is strong very language, that this is very strong language about grave concerns.
What's your reaction? They really don't want the president to authorize the release.
COONS: Well, we have to look at the president's motives for releasing this memo.
He's not giving the Senate Intelligence Committee the time to consider it and review it. He's not giving full credit to the arguments by the FBI and Department of Justice. As you reported earlier in this segment, it is most likely that his motivation is trying to further undermine the credibility of the FBI and of special counsel Robert Mueller.
That's not a great motive to be acting, particularly when what is at issue here is so sensitive for our country.
BLITZER: The White House -- White House aides are reportedly deeply concerned right now that the FBI director, Christopher Wray, he could quit in protest if and when this memo is released.
Should he quit, should he resign in protest if he's slapped down by the president? You have heard his words to the president, don't do it.
COONS: Well, one of the reasons I was happy to support Chris Wray, President Trump's nominee and now the FBI director, someone I have known since our days together in law school, was because of his deserved reputation in law enforcement as someone who's independent, who has a strong character, and who's capable of taking difficult decisions when necessary in order to protect and preserve the independence and professionalism of the FBI.
I think only he can reach a judgment as to whether the respect or treatment he's getting out of the White House is of a level that rises to compelling him to resign in protest.
But he got a very strong vote out of the Senate. I think he was confirmed 95-5 after the president abruptly fired James Comey, the former FBI director. And FBI Director Wray enjoys a very widespread respect in the United States Senate.
I think the president is playing with fire to put at risk the potential resignation in protest of his current FBI director.
BLITZER: But if he's humiliated like that by the president of the United States, what kind of image will he have as far as the men and women who serve in the FBI are concerned?
COONS: It will create some real challenges for him.
Look, once we all get a chance to read this memo, either those of us in the Senate in a classified setting or the general public, if it is inappropriately released tomorrow, we will have a better sense of what this thing really is.
I can imagine a scenario where FBI Director Wray looks at it and says, I am furious, this should not have happened, but that he may well believe that this memo, once it is seen in context, once the Democratic response memo is also reviewed by folks in the Senate or released to the public, that ultimately this will blow over, and it will be clear that this was nothing more than a bipartisan swipe by Devin Nunes at the FBI.
BLITZER: Chris Coons, thanks so much for joining us.
COONS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have more on the president's plan to release that GOP memo perhaps as early as tomorrow, and the potential consequences of going public with classified and disputed information.
And why are the lawyers for an indicted former Trump campaign aide looking to withdraw the case? Are they looking to withdraw the case? New speculation tonight about Rick Gates and his dealings with the special counsel.
[18:22:28] BLITZER: We are following the breaking news on President Trump's plans to release a very controversial memo alleging federal officials mishandled the Russia investigation.
It is on track to happen within the next 24 hours. And there are deep fears within the White House that the FBI chief Christopher Wray, will quit in protest.
Joining us now, Jake Sullivan. He's a former State Department official. He served as a senior adviser to both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden when he was vice president.
Jake, thanks very much for joining us.
You have worked with classified information, national security secrets for a long time. What are the consequences, from your perspective, of releasing this Republican memo?
JAKE SULLIVAN, FORMER ADVISER TO HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think that there are two sets of consequences.
One goes to the sensitive nature of the material. And the FBI has clearly expressed its concerns about that. But the second set of consequences go to whether the memo is factually accurate or not.
And actually part of the reason the FBI has said they have grave concerns about it is they believe it paints a fundamentally inaccurate picture of what actually happened.
I think both sets of these concerns are at play. And they're why the FBI has taken this really unusual steps of speaking so strongly against the release of the memo.
BLITZER: Because, presumably, if it's released tomorrow -- and we expect it will be -- the Democrats argue it smears the FBI. And that potentially could have a huge impact on the way the FBI cooperate or does not cooperate with key committees in Congress.
And the FBI is going to be forced to fight this battle in public with one hand tied behind its back, because the full picture, the right picture, the true picture of what actually happened here, much of that is going to be contained in classified material that they cannot release.
And so Devin Nunes will be putting out his side of the story, his perspective, his spin, and the FBI is not going to be in a position to be able to fully rebut it.
The net result of that is going to be that the American people are disserved, because they are not going to get a full and complete picture.
BLITZER: Because in the letter that was written by the Justice Department, the assistant attorney general to the committee, they warned of damaging impact that release of this memo could have in terms of receiving sensitive information from friendly foreign governments.
Explain that. Why would a foreign government that cooperates in intelligence gathering with the United States be more reluctant to share that information with the U.S. if this memo is released?
SULLIVAN: Well, this goes back to previous instances where President Trump himself has passed on information from friendly governments.
What happens is when a foreign government, an ally of ours, shares information with the United States, they expect that that is going to be kept fully in confidence.
And if the United States turn around, whether through the House or through president of the United States or otherwise, and exposes that information, it has a chilling effect. It means that foreign governments, who have the discretion to share or not share, will be less likely to be forthcoming in the future.
And that puts our intelligence community in a worse-off position and makes the United States overall less secure.
BLITZER: You are a Supreme Court clerk. You are now at Yale Law School, which is a pretty good law school.
There is a lot of concern right now that if the goal of the president is to discredit the entire Russia probe, that in of itself could be obstruction of justice. Is it?
SULLIVAN: I think it is one piece of a larger campaign that's been waged for a year, systematically attempting to block, undermine and obstruct the Mueller probe.
And I think, when you add all of that up, you don't have to have worked at the Supreme Court, you don't have to be a lawyer to see. Just common sense tells you, the president and the people around him are doing everything they can to block Robert Mueller from getting to the truth.
And that to me is obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: Here's a very worrisome development. You remember a year or so ago, January 2017, when the director of national intelligence released their report on Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
It was signed by director -- the DNI, director of national intelligence, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI. All of them agreed. And they cited why Russia would want to do it. The first goal of the Russians, they said -- and I'm reading precisely -- I looked it up -- "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process." You look at the fighting that is going on right now, it looks like mission accomplished. If that was the Russian goal, to undermine faith in the ability of the U.S. law enforcement community, the intelligence community to work cooperatively with Congress and elsewhere, they have got a successful operation, the Russians.
SULLIVAN: Vladimir Putin is sitting right now in Moscow looking at a president of the United States who is essentially doing exactly what he would like him to do, which is attack the FBI, attack the intelligence community, attack the basic institutions of the U.S. government, and in a 90-minute speech before the Congress, the State of the Union, not say one negative word about Russia or its effort to undermine our democracy.
That's what's happening here. Donald Trump will attack everyone he can find in the United States, but will not find a single bad thing to say about Vladimir Putin.
SULLIVAN: I think it raises a lot of questions that go back for a couple of years about the degree to which Donald Trump has an unhealthy, somewhat bizarre fascination with the president of Russia, and goes out of his way to protect the interests of Russia and the president of Russia, even against the advice of his own senior leadership.
And it also raises real questions about the degree to which the Trump campaign was prepared to seek help from and support from the Russian government in the pursuit of the presidency two years ago.
BLITZER: Yes, it's a thunderous silence on that specific issue coming from the president of the United States.
All right, Jake, thanks very, very much, Jake Sullivan joining us.
BLITZER: Just ahead, our experts are getting ready to weigh in on all the breaking news, as the president is ready to make that disputed Republican memo public. What are the implications for the entire Russia investigation?
And there are new developments tonight in the drama surrounding porn star Stormy Daniels and the allegations she was paid to stay silent about an affair with Mr. Trump.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump is likely just hours away from approving the release of a Republican memo alleging federal officials mishandled the Russia investigation. And a source tells CNN the FBI still has grave concerns about the memo's accuracy, and any changes being made are simply designed to spin, to justify the release of the memo. [18:33:28] Let's bring in our analysts. Sabrina, the assumption is
the president is looking for anything right now to discredit the entire Russia/Mueller probe, because that's what he wants to do.
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Yes, we've seen a twofold pattern here. One where he expects loyalty from some of the senior officials at the FBI and Justice Department, which of course, ignores the historic independence of those institutions, but also a campaign by the president's allies to discredit the work of the special counsel.
And that's why the potential release of this memo has profound consequences. Because it not only helps to bolster his campaign to color the public opinion of the Russia investigation, but it also paves the way for him to potentially clear out the FBI and replace the leadership there with more partisan loyalists.
BLITZER: The director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, Sam, he suggests that he has grave -- he uses the word "grave concern." What's the impact of releasing this memo, from your perspective as a national security expert, someone who's worked in intelligence for a long time? What's the impact on the U.S. intelligence community and the law enforcement community, for that matter, by releasing the memo?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I'm looking at this from a global perspective, and I think this is nothing short of intelligence emergency, which by the way, makes Vladimir Putin very happy, because it undermines a credibility of another U.S. institution, our intelligence agencies.
And you have to remember that we have really complex intelligence- sharing arrangements with foreign counterparts around the world. They take a long time to hammer out, because you have to come to an agreement of how information is shared, how it's shared within the U.S. government. And this latest episode is throwing that all on its head.
[18:35:07] We already know that Israel was upset, for example, when President Trump just decided to tell Foreign Minister Lavrov various information in the Oval Office. Theresa May was upset after intel leaks after the Manchester bombing. And now we just see the entire process that was probably worked out between intelligence agencies thrown on its head.
BLITZER: You know, Phil Mudd, what's the impact of all of this on the FBI's ability to do what they're supposed to do, protect all of us, and the morale at the agency right now?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think there is a short-term impact. What the president is saying and what he's telling to the FBI work force. That's about 30, 35,000 people, is you pick a team.
Traditionally, the Americans have said the team that fought Italian organized crime and beat it; the team that went after financial corruption on Wall Street and occasionally won; the team that chased Russian spies during World War II and beyond is the team we're on. The sort of polling data on the FBI has been extremely positive over time.
But if you're looking at the FBI now, today, and you're one of 330 million Americans, you have to say, "Do I pick that team that has a brand that I've trusted for so long, or do I pick Team Trump, which has said not only that we want to publish a memo but that the FBI is participating an exercise to undermine the president of the United States?"
What the president has done is to say, "It's me or the bureaucracy. And if you pick the bureaucracy, you pick corruption." I don't care if you're in Lima, Ohio, there's a resident agency, an FBI office there, or the FBI office in Los Angeles. You're watching this, and you're watching the president's tweet, saying, "What happened to the institution I joined to put bad guys behind bars? Why have we become an institution the president now says is corrupt?" It's hard to understand.
BLITZER: How compromised, David, is the House Intelligence community -- House Intelligence Committee right now?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So Wolf, look, Chairman Nunes has been working overtime to try and change the whole story here from what did the president know and when did he know it to what did the FBI know.
And the problem that he's facing now is that this memo comes out tonight or tomorrow or soon after that, and it's kind of a dud; it's just a repackaging, a partisan repackaging of things that have already been reported out over the last year and not really getting to the heart of the matter, it's going to look like he over-promised, under- delivered and made his whole House Republican Caucus, all the way up to Speaker Ryan, look foolish.
BLITZER: So you know, it's interesting, Sabrina, because it looks like Christopher Wray, despite all of his appeals, grave concern, he's not going to succeed in preventing the president from authorizing the release of the memo.
But what about others in the national security team surrounding the president, like General Kelly or General McMaster or General Mattis over at the Defense Department, Mike Pompeo at the CIA, Dan Coates, the director of national intelligence. Don't you think they would be concerned about this?
VINOGRAD: Well, certainly, there had been conversations over how they can address some of the concerns that have been raised in the -- within the intelligence community; potentially having some of the information within the memo be redacted.
But that is not enough to, I think, alleviate what are the overall concerns that the FBI has expressed. There's one component here that had to do with national security and classified information. But there's also offering an incomplete portrait of the agency and its works in a way that will color the public's perception of the FBI in its entirety. And so I don't think that there is much that they can do if they
redacted some of the information and then it potentially provides even more inconsistencies in what the contents of the memo. And it certainly -- General Kelly has said that he does believe the memo should be released. At the end of the day, you've seen this tide where no one actually wants to say no to this president. We're very much seeing that at play here.
BLITZER: The whole notion, though, of this memo being released, it could have enormous consequences. Not so much -- let's forget about intelligence gathering. But this notion that they're smearing the FBI, but they're not even seeing the basic evidence upon which this memo was prepared.
VINOGRAD: That's right. This isn't about oversight. If this was about oversight, this would go through a process. Everyone would see all the information. The inspector general would review what's going on.
This is a distraction. Which is why even if the memo is a dud, it still served its purpose. Because we're all still talking about it. We're all still talking about the partisan divide that we see over its release, instead of talking about the ongoing Russian investigation or the fact that the clock is ticking every day closer to the 2018 election.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Phil, the point that Sam just made, Putin must be pretty thrilled to see what's going on and this dissent, the disorder that's emerging here in Washington.
MUDD: not only it is about government versus government, but it's about the president versus the institution that's charged with looking after Russian spies in the United States.
Putin's got to be saying, "What's better than to undermine the FBI?"
I remember having dinner with the KGB one night. Do you know who they toasted? The FBI. They want to see the FBI go down, and they will be toasting the moment the FBI is told by the president, "You're the corrupt institution that opposes the president of the United States." That's a toast in Moscow.
[18:40:11] BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's more breaking news we're following. Top White House aides worry the president's hand- picked FBI director could quit if the memo is released tomorrow. He's warned the memo is inaccurate. One source says, and that's raising hell within the White House right now. What happens if Christopher Wray does step down?
[18:45:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our analysts. We're following the breaking news on the stunning feud that has emerged between President Trump and his FBI Director Christopher Wray. That may be coming to a head within hours with the expected release of a controversial Republican memo. You know, Phil, I want to read a tweet that James Comey, the fired FBI
director, just posted a little while ago, and I'll put it up on the screen.
All should appreciate the FBI speaking up, I want to 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.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, this puts a lot of pressure on the director of the FBI. As you know, in the past days, there's been a conversation in the media and elsewhere about whether the FBI director will resign because his honor has been impugned. If the president supports the release of this memo, what he's saying is, my appointee of the FBI, that storied institution, is sitting on soiled laundry, is sitting on corruption. The honorable thing might be for Christopher Wray to resign.
What Comey is saying and I would agree with him or at least what he's suggesting is, look, we are going into an extremely unstable environment where the special counsel may issue indictments against people connected with the White House I would predict sometimes in the spring or summer. We do not want vacant FBI position or a lap dog of the president in the seat of the FBI when those indictments come out because I predict the White House is going to respond. It might be the honorable thing for Chris Wray. I think the call of duty will say this is as tremor with the Nunes memo. Wait for the earthquake when the indictments come out and stand over as a point of stability with the FBI when that happens because it's going to go ugly.
BLITZER: Other members of the cabinet have been slapped by the president like the Attorney General Jeff Sessions but they stayed on the job. Tillerson at the State Department as well.
What do you think, Sabrina? Is he going to quit in protest? We're talking about Christopher Wray, the FBI director. Or he should have turned the other cheek?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, THE GUARDIAN: Well, Christopher Wray did meet with the White House chief of staff John Kelly over the past week and he didn't indicate that he had any intention to resign at this stage. I think he sees it as integral to stay at this moment in his position because there is need to act as a check and a balance, and there's this concern within the agency that if you lose someone like Christopher Wray, who's more of a shooter, the president is clearly looking to fill a senior leadership with more people who are loyal to him.
But I think the challenge for anyone in this role will fundamentally be that this president believes that the FBI and the Justice Department are there to serve him and there is no real answer for that problem. BLITZER: David, we reported that the top White House officials are
very nervous right now that Christopher Wray might resign in protest to what the protest is doing, authorizing the lease of this memo.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, if Wray resigns, that's a tough choice for him for all the reasons already stated. But it's also a tough position for the White House because can you imagine, he can be free to speak his mind on various issues and not classified information if he's outside of the administration. Imagine a situation where sometimes in the future, three former FBI heads, Mueller, Comey, Christopher Wray are sitting here onset with you, Wolf, and you're asking them, why did you leave the administration? Or what's going on with President Trump? The White House does not want that.
BLITZER: I can only imagine, Sam, the impact all of this is having on morale, not just over at the FBI but other law enforcement agencies, as well as the intelligence community as well.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that's probably true. But that said, a lot of people at the FBI and intelligence committee have been there for years and I have no doubt they have been working hard. And to be clear, there is precedent for a president disagreeing with member of his cabinets. That's not what is most disturbing to me.
What is most disturbing to me is that we are seeing a pattern of President Trump disagree with members of his cabinet particularly when it's stuff that Russia wants him to do like release his memo. It's no coincidence that Russia has been retweeting release the memo at an unprecedented rate. So, to me, that's a more disturbing aspect.
BLITZER: You know, it's also interesting, Phil. Let's say they release the Republican memo tomorrow. The Democratic rebuttal, that has not been approved for release. They voted against releasing the Democratic rebuttal that were put together by Adam Schiff and his Democratic colleagues. Don't you think if they're going to release it, they should release both simultaneously?
MUDD: Not only both, but if you are going to do this right, you release of what you found, even if there is a Democratic dissent, then you offer an addition piece, what are going to do about it and what are our recommendations? Let me tell you what's going on. I was told of the first person to the table with a piece of paper wins.
Same thing that happened when President Trump started talking about the fallacious claim that President Obama was not an American citizen. People still claim that that's true even though the president himself came out it is untrue.
[18:50:05] When the Republicans come out first, they will frame the narrative regardless of whether the Democratic memo comes out a week or two later. First person to the table with the piece of paper wins, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Phil, they're not releasing the basic raw intelligence, the basic raw information upon which this memo was built.
MUDD: That's correct. If someone says to you, like the IRS that your tax es are fraudulent, wouldn't you think they look at the documents behind it? The answer is they didn't. How can you claim fraud when you didn't look at the documents behind it?
BLITZER: How do they do that, David? I mean, just release a summary of what they allege all this raw intelligence, all this raw information that they had access to, at least a few of them had access to it?
SWERDLICK: Yes. I mean, I think that's what undercuts the credibility of some of what we expect to be released, this idea summary with potentially is cherry-picked rather than saying fine let's be completely transparent, get rid of classified information and let the American people, let the Congress see everything.
BLITZER: There are more developments unfolding even as we speak. Just ahead, the porn star Stormy Daniels has been moving quickly to cash in on an alleged sexual relationship with Donald Trump. So, why did she suddenly cancel a very high profile TV appearance?
[18:55:59] BLITZER: We're continuing to follow breaking news on the president's plans to release a very controversial Republican memo over the very public objections of his handpicked FBI director. But right now, there's another cloud over the White House, namely, Stormy Daniels.
Our national correspondent Sara Sidner has the latest on the porn star and what she's saying and not saying about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump.
What are you learning, Sara?
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She had a big opportunity. She was supposed to be on "The View". She canceled that last minute. And just heard from her manager saying she isn't doing anymore interviews.
SIDNER (voice-over): The appearances for Stormy Daniels are wracking up from late night to overnight. But Donald Trump's alleged former mistress canceled her major daytime appearance on "The View". Her manager told CNN it's because Stormy watched "The View" for the first time and did not like the way S.E. Cupp spoke about her.
Cupp, a CNN contributor and HLN anchor, complained about the late night host while a guest on "The View" last week, saying Kimmel should have invited on Monica Lewandowski, the intern Bill Clinton had sexual relations with during his presidency.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're talking about Monica Lewinsky? S.E. CUPP, HLN ANCHOR: Yes, Jimmy Kimmel needs to have her on his show if he expects us to watch an interview with Stormy Daniels and take it seriously.
SIDNER: Jimmy Kimmel has had Lewandowski on several times. But Cupp is feuding on Twitter with Kimmel over the choice to book Daniels the same night as President Trump's first State of the Union speech.
JIMMY KIMMEL, LATE NIGHT HOST: I know you can't answer questions because of his NDA that you don't have, but Stormy puppet perhaps can answer some question.
SIDNER: Questions left unanswered are, did Daniels accept $130,000 just before the election as part of a non-disclosure agreement to keep quiet about an affair with Donald Trump, as "The Wall Street Journal" first reported? There are now two letters denying any affair or payment happened.
But Jacob Weisberg, now the Slate Group chairman, says he was in talks with Daniels about her affair with Donald Trump. He says Daniels asked to be paid about $125,000 for her story.
JACOB WEISBERG, CHAIRMAN, THE SLATE GROUP: I made clear that "Slate" doesn't pay for stories. Then at some point, it became clear that the other alternatives for her was payment she was trying to negotiate from Donald Trump. The problem was she didn't trust him very much and she thought although they had agreement, that he would pay her for the story, via his lawyer Michael Cohen.
SIDNER: Soon, their talks ended. Fast forward a year and suddenly Daniels is back in the news, appearing a lot but saying little.
SARA AZARI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Her silence speaks volumes.
SIDNER: Unlike the in-depth interview she gave in 2011 to "In Touch" magazine detailing here sexual encounters with Trump.
(on camera): What's stopping her from breaking her NDA at this point?
AZARI: You would be subjected not just -- usually not just to the sum that was paid to you, but sometimes millions of dollars of penalties and punitive damages that attach.
SIDNER: But defense attorney Sara Azari says if an NDA is breached, they are often kept out of the courts. So that these are private mediations and the person who doesn't want the NDA to be known publicly doesn't have to have it be known -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to watch this part of the story as well. Sarah Sidner reporting for us, thank you very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. But before we go, important news. We want to send best wishes to one of our frequent analysts, Susan Hennessey. She and her husband Brendan are now the proud new parents of healthy baby girl. Jane Maureen was born yesterday weighing in at six pounds, three ounces, we're told. The Hennesseys, including brother Charlie are thrilled, and all of us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Congratulations to all of you. What a sweet little baby. Very, very nice.
Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.