Return to Transcripts main page


Republicans Release Controversial Memo on FBI. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Now, there are serious questions raised by the memo. And the public, of course, deserves to know more.

Speaker Paul Ryan said lawmakers should use the memo to ensure that law enforcement doesn't violate any Americans' civil liberties and to make sure that political documents not be used -- quote -- "to make law enforcement and counterintelligence decisions."

But Speaker Ryan also caution that members of Congress "not use this memo to impugn the integrity of the justice system and FBI," though that is precisely how President Trump and his supporters are using this memo, as Mr. Trump escalates his attacks on U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The Justice Department and FBI, run by the president's own appointees, say that the memo is misleading.

But the president is accusing many of those same officials, many of whom he appointed to their jobs, of running a political hit job against him and his associates.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country. And when you look at that, and you see that and so many other things, what is going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves.


TAPPER: Democrats and some Republicans fear that President Trump will now try to use the Nunes memo as a pretext to fire those investigating whether anyone affiliated with the Trump team collaborated in any way with the Russians.

With congressional Democratic leaders issuing this blunt warning to the president -- quote -- "Firing Rod Rosenstein, DOJ leadership or Bob Mueller could result in a constitutional crisis of the kind not seen since the Saturday Night Massacre."

The Saturday Night Massacre is of course the Democrats invoking Watergate and President Nixon firing a special prosecutor. Omitted from that statement the Democrats of course is the acknowledgement that the president has already fired FBI Director James Comey and forced out Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and, of course, President Trump has threatened to fire special counsel Bob Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

In a way, the president has already had his Saturday Night Massacre, just over several months, with no one like Elliot Richardson. Richardson, of course, the Nixon attorney general who resigned in honor before carrying out the firing of prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Let's turn to CNN's reporting team for much more on the memo's allegations and the president's attacks on the top law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the security.

CNN chief security national correspondent Jim Sciutto is breaking down memo.

But we begin with CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who is at the White House.

Jeff, you have some breaking news on President Trump's relationship with Rod Rosenstein.


President Trump, neither he nor the White House will say if he has confidence in his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who, of course, is overseeing this Mueller investigation.

One official I spoke to just a short time ago said this. "He is unlikely to ever get beyond it," meaning the Russia investigation, "but there's no sense of if the president is going to take that extra step and push Rosenstein out."

Look at the view, the expression on the president's face when he was asked the question earlier today.


QUESTION: Are you likely to fire Rod Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: You figure that one out.


ZELENY: So those five words, "You figure that one out," are hanging over this White House here in terms of the future of Rod Rosenstein.

Now, as the president heads down to Florida for the weekend, he will certainly be thinking about this at his Mar-a-Lago resort. But one other Republican who speaks often to the president told me this. He does more venting than firing.

So, simply an unknown question here, Jake, if the president will actually try and remove he Rod Rosenstein. But even if he did, that would not make Mueller investigation go away. The number three at the Justice Department, Rachel Brand, also from the Bush administration time here in Washington, would also likely replace him here.

So the reality is it is more complicated than simply removing one person. But, again, Jake, he is in the crosshairs here and no one knows where he stands -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny.

He says -- the person you talked to said he does more venting than firing. He does his fair share of firing, too. We should point out. It has been a pretty tumultuous time for the White House staff and the administration.

But let me go to Jim Sciutto now.

Jim, what is your bottom line takeaway from reading the Nunes memo? What do our viewers need to know about it?


Our viewers should know that the central allegation of this Nunes memo is that the warrant to monitor Carter Page, a Trump adviser, during the presidential election, by association really the whole Russia investigation, is based almost entirely or principally on this dossier composed by this former British intelligence agent, which is a dossier that the president and others have attacked for some time.

And to support that, the Nunes memo says the former deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, actually told the House Intelligence Committee that. He said that we would not have sought, the FBI would not have sought this warrant Carter Page without the dossier.

The trouble is, Jake, one, I have spoken to, and my colleague Manu Raju together with me, we have now spoken to three Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee who were in the room for McCabe's testimony before the committee, and they say that that's just not true. He didn't testify to that, that in fact he testified there were many pieces of intelligence.


And I will add one more point, Jake. In fact, later in the Nunes memo, it grants that the Russia investigation was started months before the warrant application for Carter Page based on entirely different intelligence from George Stephanopoulos -- George Papadopoulos, I should say, another Trump campaign adviser who was told by someone tied to the Russian government they had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

So to some degree the memo undermines itself on that main argument.

TAPPER: That's right. It says the George Papadopoulos investigation began in July. The Carter Page FISA warrant was in October of 2016.

Jim Sciutto, thanks so much.

General Michael Hayden was director of the CIA and the NSA. He joins me now. General, first of all, what must other heads of intelligence agencies,

FBI, NSA, CIA, what must they be thinking right now with this?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Jake, I can't imagine what it must be like for those folks, frankly, in some of my old jobs.

Let's take CIA. An awful lot of CIA information shows up in FISA requests, FISA applications. And now you have got this whole drama playing out.

So the interests of CIA are directly implicated here. So are the interests of NSA, because we have set a precedent. We have gone to a place we have never gone before, which is the injection of not just partisanship, but hyperpartisanship into the FISA process.

And now you have Dan Coats, Senator Coats, the director of national intelligence. And press accounts are suggesting he tried to push back against the release of the memo and some redactions within the memo to make it a bit less threatening to sources and methods.

And the memo went out, and it went out clean. And so although Senator Coats tried to push back, he wasn't successful.

You have to think, this is a man who spent his -- I'm a creature of the executive branch. He spent his life in Congress. All right? And so he has a perspective on the oversight function that I would not have.

And I can't imagine what he is going through now seeing, in my view, the destruction of this process of which he was a part. And there's one more thing. With all this going on, and your reporting and what we're seeing about the memo, he has to turn to his work force, as do all the three-letter agency chiefs, and remind them, convince them that they're still part of a good thing, and what it is they do makes a difference, both of which were placed under threat by this.

TAPPER: What was your response to the Nunes memo? It came out. It is three-and-a-half pages. Jim Sciutto just laid out what it basically says.

But basically the insinuation is that the FBI was biased against Donald Trump and they used Democratic opposition research, hid that from the FISA court, and improperly got this warrant to spy on Carter Page.


So, first of all, we have only got the threads that the Republicans on the committee want to lay out. Reality is much richer. A FISA application runs 40, 50, 60 pages. It is very rich and you're very careful, because you know the judge is going to pick it up and hit you in the head with it if it is not done well, if you don't prove your case.

So I read the memo. And I frankly came away, and I watched Phil Mudd in the last hour, the same impression Phil had. This is your best shot? This is it? This is what you got?

Because what the memo shows is this was handled by career professionals, that Chris Steele had actually been a reliable source of the FBI in the past, that the FISA application was multi-threaded, that the energy for this came from the Papadopoulos thing that came from the Australians.

And then the memo actually says they got three additional renewals of the original FISA, which means that the collection had to have been fruitful. And so, yes, you might want to cross a T differently here or dot an I over here, but fundamentally I think people were doing their job, moving in a direction that was warranted, that an Article III court agreed with, and actually produced results.

TAPPER: So if it is not that big a deal, if your response is that's all there is, and Phil Mudd, that was his response as well, what is the big deal about releasing it? Just because you think it paints a misleading picture of the FBI?

HAYDEN: So I there are kind of three problem sets.

One is classification, which, frankly, I think is the one that is most easily managed. All right? And so if you look at that memo, I'm trying to be fair about it. I don't know that I would have insisted on a whole lot being changed in terms of protecting sources and methods.

So, I think you can manage the classification problem. What you have over here, though, is opening the door to something we have never done before, which I suggested, hyperpartisanship for a process that was near sacred ground in terms of career professionals talking only to judges, so you don't have the political influence left to right.


And then, finally, I think the objection is, it's wrong. It is not good work. It leads to a conclusion that everyone I know who has been involved in this process believe is just incorrect.

TAPPER: I want to get your response to the president's tweet this morning -- quote -- "The top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans, something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank and file are great people."

And that's a pretty serious charge. The president of the United States is saying that the top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department are corrupt. That's what he's saying.


So, I don't think it is proved by the memo. And the memo is a one- sided document in and of itself. And it seems to me that that is said -- and this is a part that has the work force asking, am I still part of a good thing? That was done for the president's personal legal and political advantage, not out of his constitutional responsibilities.

TAPPER: All right. General Hayden, it always a pleasure to have you here.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thank you so much.

My political panel is here. Does this memo raise legitimate questions about the surveillance of American citizens?

We will answer that question when we come back. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back. Top Democrats in the House and Senate are warning President Trump using this memo as a reason to fire leaders at the Justice department or Special Counsel Robert Mueller would spark, they say, a constitutional crisis. I'm back with our panel.

Governor, let me start with you. Is the President headed in that direction? Do you think he's going to fire Mueller or Rosenstein, or both?

GRANHOLM: Well, it certainly seems like it, right? But here's the kicker on this, Jake, is that if -- if he fires Rosenstein or if he fires Mueller, and then he keeps going down this path, you know, there is a lot of state attorneys-general who are very eager to be able to be helpful on this. So if Mueller is fired, you could see...

TAPPER: Helpful to who?

GRANHOLM: Well, you could see -- helpful to finishing this process...


GRANHOLM: ...of making the -- making this investigation complete. So Mueller's team could be hired by Eric Schneiderman, for example, who's the attorney-general of New York or of Racine who is the attorney- general of Washington, D.C. So this doesn't end. I mean, this is why I don't understand what Trump thinks is his end game on this because it doesn't end if he fires Mueller and Rosenstein.

TAPPER: That's interesting because, of course, Susan, you're looking you just...

PAGE: I'm saying this is not the way our system is supposed to work.

(UNKNOWN): No. Of course...

PAGE: They have -- they have the federal investigation of a Special Counsel and to a President this campaign be dismantled and then picked up by state attorney-general.

(UNKNOWN): Totally agree.

PAGE: That would be -- yes, that would be a crisis of a whole new -- of a whole new sort. And I think the question of whether the President goes ahead with what he obviously seems to want to do, which is to fire Rosenstein for the purposes of firing Mueller, this will be, I think, the most significant firestorm, by far, that we've seen for this entire administration.

GRANHOLM: For sure. And Wray who said that he would...

TAPPER: The FBI Director because of the rank...

GRANHOLM: Right. Christopher Wray said that he would resign if he were forced to fire Mueller himself. What happens to him? Does he also step down? I mean, it's just a cascade that is completely undermining the very legs of our -- of democracy.

STEWART: I think we're also making a big leap to assume that this administration takes one step with already knowing what the end game is in mind.

GRANHOLM: Well, good point.

STEWART: But their point today they were very clear on what they wanted. The President clearly thinks this is a disgrace. I talked with some folks that were part of this Committee, and they feel that it was important for the American people to see what they found out.

Their key were pointing out that one thing we haven't pointed out more clearly is that the dossier, which is the key behind this -- this FISA warrant funded, in the large part, by the Democrats, specifically Hillary Clinton, that's one thing that they wanted to make sure people knew about. And they truly believe that this FISA warrant would not have been granted and issued if it had not been for that dossier, which they believe was part of a Democratic opposition research to take the President down, and they feel that that was wrong to -- to make this warrant based on that. And they wanted the people to know.

That being said, I think to attack the FBI and the intelligence community is inappropriate, and putting this out there when the FBI is saying that there are grave concerns about, I think that raises bigger concerns. But the the big question is what we really need to know, what will Muller do as a result of all of this?

TAPPER: So, one of the things that's interesting is that there is a factual debate going on right here, and I said in the last hour, my dad always always has said -- always used to say argue opinions, don't argue facts. You know, facts just exist unto themselves.

Did Andrew McCabe say -- did the deputy FBI Director say that the FISA warrant against Carter Page would not have been obtained without the Steele dossier, that that was the reason?

Adam Schiff and Democrats are saying no. The Republicans obviously in the memo are saying yes. Congressman Lee Zeldin just said on Twitter, there is a tape of it. He absolutely said it was reported, so... GRANHOLM: Right, it is verifiable.

TAPPER: ...I mean, I -- I think the solution is if -- if -- if the transparency is the cause here and I totally agree, let's release everything, let's release...

GRANHOLM: Release the Democratic...

TAPPER: ...the Democratic memo, the underlying intelligence, the transcripts of the -- of the interviews, the FISA warrant applications, whatever we can.

GRANHOLM: Well, whatever your dad said about facts being facts, you know, there are alternative facts apparently with this administration and that seems to be with this. If you look at the four corners of the document that they released, and yes they should definitely release the Democratic ones, so we have a full picture. But the four corners of the document defy what the Republicans are saying themselves.

They say -- it says, in the document itself, that yes, preliminary corroboration of the Steele dossier was happening. The George Papadopoulos information was also part of it. So, just in the four corners of the document itself, it -- it -- it goes against what they are saying. So, you know, it's just mind-boggling what's happening in America.

TAPPER: This is why -- this is why usually these committees operate in bipartisan way so that they're (inaudible).

PAGE: They're going to make some efforts, too. You know, I don't think the purpose of this document was to clarify. I think the purpose of this document was to muddy.


PAGE: And I think it's attempt to muddy at a particular time when we think that the Special Counsel is moving toward conclusion. At least on the obstruction of justice investigation, he -- we know that they're negotiating to get -- to be able to question President Trump. We assume that would come toward the end of an investigation. And it that may be one reason we're seeing this happen. Now -- and one reason it's confusing is because that is -- it seems to me part of the point.

GRANHOLM: And if the purpose is to muddy -- I'm sorry, let me just say this, and this probably goes to you, what does this say about the aiders and abettors of those who released this document, which are the Republicans in the House? I mean, so many of whom had been so supportive of, in the past, the FBI, et cetera.

STEWART: And the key is to hear the Democrats side is...


STEWART: ...of course, of course. TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We're going to talk much more.

We're just getting started. If President Trump does fire the Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, will that be another shoe to drop in the obstruction of justice probe? Stick around. We got lots more to talk about.