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Disputed GOP/Nunes Memo Released, Democratic Memo Not Cleared for Release by House GOP. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired February 2, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Keeps picking the scab on this.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Of course, he's saying that because he was head of the agency at the time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But one of the things the congressman said was Vladimir Putin is winning on this thing. We have to keep that in mind. Let's think about foreign intelligence agencies, which we rely on, for getting clues to stop bad things from happening to Americans. How are they going to feel about interacting with our intelligence community, given the way it is being put through this torture?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hold on for a moment because there's more breaking news.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is CNN special coverage of major, breaking news that's clearly rocking Washington.
The highly contested memo written and released by Republicans is now out. It alleges FBI misconduct, involving the surveillance of then Trump campaign member Carter Page and the president, according to sources, sees it as a way to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller and of the Russia investigation.
I want you to listen to what President Trump said a little while ago, when asked about this four-page Republican document.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's terrible, if you want to know the truth. I think it's a disgrace, what's going on in this country. I think it's a disgrace.
The memo was sent to Congress, it was declassified. Congress will do whatever they're going to do. But 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's going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that. So, I sent it over to Congress. They will do what they're going to do, whatever they do is fine. It was declassified. And let's see what happens. But a lot of people should be ashamed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's go to CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez. He's been carefully monitoring all of these late breaking developments.
First of all, Evan, update our viewers on what the memo actually says.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. But this 3 1/2- page memo that is now been released by the House Intelligence Committee, and it was written by the GOP staff that reports to Devin Nunes, the chairman of that committee.
And the basic point that they're making is that there was a breakdown in the legal process, that they say that this undermines the legitimacy and legality of a FISA warrant obtained on Carter Page who president Trump said was a foreign national security adviser to his campaign. The first warrant was issued in October of 2016 and there were three renewals of that FISA warrant, approved by a court.
According to this document, they say that the Steele dossier, the dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, former MI-6 officer, British intelligence officer, that they say that the information he was being paid for, ultimately, by the DNC, by the Clinton campaign, was not disclosed to the secret FISA court, which approved these warrants. And they say because of that, this is essentially fruit of a poisoned tree, that this should have never been approved and it undermines the entire investigation, Russia investigation.
It's very important to mention here that -- they paint a picture of Christopher Steele, again, MI-6 agent for the British government, who had previously provided information to the FBI. They say that he was biased against President Trump. All of this, as you heard Congressman Chris Stewart just now a few minutes ago on your air says raises significant concerns among Republicans that the process was not being followed lawfully.
So, the question, I guess, that we all have now is what are Republicans who control the Congress going to do about this? Do they think there needs to be a change in the law? We know that this dossier was not the only thing used to obtain these FISA warrants.
As a matter of fact, the document, the memo released today, Wolf, actually says there was additional information that was presented to the court.
So, the question, I guess, we have for Republicans is what do they think needs to change? Do they believe that perhaps someone needs to be fired at the FBI because they approved of some of these things? Certainly people at the justice department, do they need to be fired or does there need to be a change in the law that governs the authorization of these FISA warrants, Wolf?
BLITZER: Evan, I want you stand by. I want to bring in our correspondent Tom Foremen to break down some of this a bit further. Tom, let's start from the very beginning when the FBI first applied
for this warrant in the investigation of Russian influence in the election. Update us on that.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a situation where really what matters here is in the investigation of the Russia influence, Carter Page became a flashpoint. Not because this one-time Trump adviser had long ties to Russia, nor because he traveled there during the campaign. We know that's true. But because some Republicans claim the Justice Department improperly used a FISA court to get permission to wiretap Page.
That's what this memo is all about. FISA stands for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA courts are where investigators can ask a judge for legal permission to spy on a person on American soil if, after thorough review, they show probable cause the target is a foreign agent or may be.
By some accounts the Justice Department did just that. Basically what they did, they went and applied to the FISA court. They had -- they submitted paperwork which had been approved at the highest level, suggesting Page was working with the Russians. The court approved the surveillance and even extended it.
But Republicans then said they thought that this process had been tainted because in the original request, there were unseen hands of political operatives the court was not told about, according to the Republicans. That's what the memo says. And the FBI relied on this private research on Page that was substantially funded by Democrats. Then that information was turned into what actually made this happen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very interesting. Very important information, indeed. Tom Foreman, thanks very, very much for that report.
The release of the memo, by the way, has set off a conflict that even Washington has not seen before. It's the president and most of his party's lawmakers versus the top law enforcers in the nation, strongly, strongly, bitterly oppose the memo being made public, saying among other things, it was inaccurate. The officials include the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who oversees Robert Mueller's work, special counsel. Rosenstein is mentioned in this memo as one of the officials who signed the application for a warrant targeting Carter Page.
Here was the president's response when Rosenstein's name came up for his comment a little while ago. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Are you likely to fire Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?
TRUMP: You figure that one out.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Do you have confidence in Rosenstein? You figure that one out. And clearly, an angry, angry look on his face.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, you're hearing more from the White House now about why the president allowed this memo to go public.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we are and it's simply is the fact that the president is of a belief that the top ranks of the FBI and the Justice Department, he believes are biased against him and were biased against him at the beginning of this Russia investigation. He made that pretty plain when he was speaking there in the Oval Office earlier today.
But the big question here, Wolf, you just said right there, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The president, you could see the look on his face there. But by saying, you figure that one out certainly leaves open a question here as we stand on a Friday afternoon, if the deputy attorney general, who oversees the special counsel's investigation, where he stands with this president and with this White House.
The president would not answer that. I've asked multiple White House aides and officials here what they meant by that. They've not been able to shed any more light on it.
So, at this point, that was the question going forward here. Will the president try and get rid of Rod Rosenstein? Will he allow him to stay? Unclear.
But the president clearly believes this discredits the Russian investigation. Not all Republicans agree with him. Conservative South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy from South Carolina again said a short time ago that he believes this does not impugn the Russia investigation. He said that this simply has nothing to do with that. The Russia investigation should go forward. He believes in that 100 percent.
So, Wolf, the idea that the president believe this is discredits the Russia investigation simply is not a stipulated fact by all Republicans. But the president leaving the White House at this hour, in fact, shortly. We'll see if he has anything else to say about Rod Rosenstein, because that question hangs over all of this today here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, you heard Representative Chris Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, a Republican from Utah, say to us just a little while ago, he wants -- he certainly wants the Russia investigation to go forward, even though the president, as you and our other reporters have all pointed out, he would like to see it simply go away.
Jeff, stand by. There's more information coming in.
Pamela Brown, our senior white house correspondent is with us as well. Pamela, a reminder to viewers what the memo says about George
Papadopoulos is also charged as part of the Mueller probe.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, George Papadopoulos, he was involved in the campaign. He was charged for lying to the FBI and the Russia probe and it's interesting because in the last page of this memo, Wolf, it makes reference to Papadopoulos, that his name was in the FISA application for Carter Page.
[14:10:07] Now, in the memo, the argument is made that there was no evidence that Carter Page and George Papadopoulos had talked or that there was any sort of cooperation or conspiracy between the two. But it does sort of undercut the argument that the dossier was the sort of principle part of the FISA application, that that was really the only reason why the judge signed off on it, because it mentioned that Papadopoulos was also used to make the case.
To remind viewers, our reporting is that George Papadopoulos told the Australian ambassador well before this application was improved that Russians had incriminating information on Hillary Clinton. He allegedly, according to court records, was told that by a professor in London, that Russians had thousands of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. That sparked alarm bells in the FBI once the Australian ambassador reported that information, and that was when that information was reported and that's why the Russian probe was open in the first place in July of 2016.
Clearly, the FBI was making this argument to go up on Carter Page, saying, look, we already have this application. We already have concern that the Russians were trying to meddle in the election. That's all part of this argument.
To remind our viewers, Wolf, it says -- this is new -- there was an initial application made by Carter Page and then it was renewed three times, every 90 days. At that point, the every 90-day mark, you have to make the case to the judge that the person as the target for surveillance, in this case, Carter Page, why they believe this person is acting as an agent of a foreign power. And that information is missing in this memo. We don't know why they were able to go back to the judge and get this application renewed and what information the surveillance was able to merit to continue to get these renewals, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. There's a lot to go through. Obviously, we're all waiting to see when, if the minority report, the Democratic report rebutting many of these allegations in this majority report, is going to be released.
Are you getting any indication, at all, Pamela, when they might have gone through, scrubbed it for classified information, when the Democratic minority report will be released by the House Intelligence Committee?
BROWN: No, we're not. There is really, at this point, no indication of when that may be released. You were just talking to the Republican congressman who said they
didn't wait until the Democratic memo was ready to go public because they felt like this was so important. But you're sort of only working with half the information here, Wolf. The FBI director has already publicly said that there are some key omissions.
And, Wolf, the congressman also said he raised the question, well, now the FBI can come out and make its case. Here is the problem. This is all classified information. The information in this memo was declassified by the order of the president but the rest of it is classified. So, the FBI just can't just come out and make its case.
BLITZER: Yes, it's real smear on the FBI and the Justice Department, smear in this memo that they would like to rebut. But you're absolutely right, there are restrictions of what they can say, how far they can go, given the nature of the classified information involved.
Pamela, stand by.
I want to talk more about the memo, the impact it could have on top officials over at the FBI and the Justice Department.
Let's bring in our senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, our national security analyst Samantha Vinograd, who was a senior advisor to the national security advisor during the Obama administration, our intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer, he's a former CIA operative, and Catharine Wehle, a former associate independent counsel, Kim, I should say, Kim Wehle, counsel during the Whitewater investigation. She knows deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein very well.
You know, Nia, let me start with you. This has exploded right now. This is precisely what -- as I mentioned earlier, Putin and the Russians wanted to see happen. The disunity, the anger that's going on, the blaming of the FBI, the blaming of the law enforcement community, the intelligence community going after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Even Chris Stewart, the Republican congressman said Putin probably should give a medal to the guys who orchestrated this meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that's right and they did it pretty cheaply. To have what we see now, this chaos, which is a really active attempt to undermine American institutions, the FBI and the DOJ, and Donald Trump seeming to want to do that to distract or undermine this Russia investigation.
So, I think -- I think that's exactly right. Russians are certainly happy of what's going on here now, with really attacking these very important American institutions. And you heard FBI agents today basically come out on Twitter and say this is damaging, that they put their lives on the line in terms of law and order.
[14:15:08] And it's also just odd to have a Republican president, a law and order president, then attack the FBI and the Department of Justice. BLITZER: Yes, it puts, you know, the FBI director, Christopher Wray,
who has been on the job in six months in a rather extremely difficult position right now. He appealed to the White House, don't do this. His appeal was rejected.
It puts Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, in an extremely awkward position. He similarly said, don't do this. It will compromise the U.S. hold off on releasing, making public this memo. Can they stay in their respective jobs or do they have to resign in protest? And if they do resign in protest, especially given what the president just said about Rod Rosenstein, this lack of confidence he has in him, by his demeanor, if you will, is that exactly what the president would want? He would want to bring in fresh people who maybe more in sync with him?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I hope they do stay in their jobs because I really think we need stability in our institutions right now. To your point, Vladimir Putin is having a really good day. He's sitting back, smiling and saying a 3 1/2-page memo which is like a bad book report. It's awfully sourced, it's awfully written and it says a whole lot of nothing.
And Vladimir Putin instead is sitting back and watching our legal system, our intelligence community being turned on its head. And I think it's really interesting, Wolf. We've not heard anything from H.R. McMaster or the National Security Council and heard their views on whether this memo should have gone out and what they're doing to mitigate the impact.
BLITZER: Well, we did get a letter that the White House counsel Don McGahn wrote in releasing this memo to Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. In the letter, it says the White House review process also included input from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice. Consistent with this review and standards the president has determined the declassification of the memorandum is appropriate.
So, apparently, some individuals did review it.
VINOGRAD: They did. But, you know, if I was advising the president today as I did for Obama and President Bush, I would tell him to stop tweeting and to spend his time on the phone talking to foreign counterparts and saying our intelligence oversight mechanisms, our intelligence processes, our FISA process which, by the way, often involves foreign intelligence, is secure and our intelligence liaison relationship should continue.
BLITZER: I want to get Bob Baer's reaction to what's unfolding right now. You used to serve in the CIA.
BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, I'm worried about the FBI. If I were an FBI agent in the field now and picked up some information on Russia that was damaging to the president or even helpful, I would not report it. I would think twice about it. I left the CIA, same thing. I reported stuff on Russian money coming into the campaign and as the messenger, I became the target and I resigned from the CIA. It's as simple as that.
What you're having is an agency we depend upon to stop terrorism, FBI agents are putting their lives on the line. You look at this -- I'm sorry, it's a piece of trash, this 3 1/2-page memo. There's nothing classified in it. There's nothing -- it's a partisan attack on the FBI. And it's going to do our institutions serious damage and I really worry about it.
BLITZER: Well, let me read to you the tweet that the president posted around 6:30 a.m. earlier today. And this helps explain his mindset, why he decided he wanted this memorandum made public.
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.
But here, he specifically is blasting the top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department. Top leaders of the Justice Department and FBI are individuals he nominated and got approved during the Senate confirmation process.
BAER: Exactly. It's like this whole stupidity about the deep state. It doesn't exist, and that there was a conspiracy. There's no evidence.
The fact that they put this GPS Fusion report into a FISA document was well, you know, established that Carter Page was in touch with Russian intelligence, so was Manafort and on and on and on. It's unimportant for this FISA.
And until we see the entire underlying file, we don't -- it makes no sense at all. And that's why I say from the HPSCI this 3 1/2-page memo is a piece of trash.
BLITZER: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That's the initials that you're talking about. I want to make sure our viewers here in the United States and around the world understand what you're saying.
Kim Wehle, you're a former assistant U.S. attorney. How do you see the release of this memo?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I'm going to put on my professional hat a little bit because I'm also a constitutional law professor and I know our listeners are really interested in understanding the bottom line here.
[14:20:04] I think we need to really pump the brakes in talking about letting go Mr. Rosenstein.
The bottom line question here is was there probable cause for a federal judge to issue this FISA warrant with respect to surveillance of Carter Page? We're not talking about putting someone in jail. We're talking about intelligence. And there are a couple of things come out of the memo that are pretty
remarkable. One is that White House counsel himself says, to be clear the memorandum reflects represents the judgment of the congressional authors. To me, that's not standing behind the facts of the memo.
The second thing is the Nunes memo itself says the FISA application relied on Steele's past record of credible reporting or other unrelated matters. But even the Nunes memo itself acknowledges that Mr. Steele was a credible witness in other context.
And the Supreme Court, in a case called Franks versus Delaware, acknowledged we have biased informants. It's a very high standard. This is a question for a judge on appeal. This is not a political question.
And it -- I agree with bob that this is serious, serious stuff for the integrity of our democratic system. And I think people across the nation really need to understand that. This is not about party. This is about country at this point.
BLITZER: It's a very serious situation.
I want to get this moment, but, Nia, take a look at this. Dow Jones Industrials -- you see the president leaving the White House a while ago. He's heading off to Virginia. But look at the Dow Jones, down more than 500 points right now. That's the biggest loss since he became president of the United States.
By the way, this is shaping up to be the biggest loss in a week --
HENDERSON: Yes, my goodness.
BLITZER: -- since taking office. Not exactly sure what's causing this drop. Earlier in the week there was a drop of 350 points, then it bounced back a little bit. Now, it's dropped more than 500.
HENDERSON: Yes. And it's always hard to know why this happens, as you said. But we do know this is a president who touts the Dow and sort of the gains we have seen over his last year in office or so.
So, it is surprising to see it drop so much today. And who knows if it's connected to any of the jitters that people are getting when you have the president on Twitter, attacking these very important institutions. To your point, you were saying, oh, you know, the whole discussion about Rod Rosenstein might be premature, but I think in some ways that is what the chatter is. Like is this laying the groundwork for the removal of Rod Rosenstein? If you look at the behavior of Republicans, particularly in the House, it's not clear what they would do, given if the president does this.
I mean, it seems like they are tantamount to run for cover to protect this president and certainly this memo suggests that. I think if you were this president you might get the sense that you can do almost anything and sort of get away with it.
WEHLE: My opponent on that, this is an unnecessary trauma on the country. If you look at the memo itself, there is zero grounds for letting go Mr. Rosenstein. There's absolutely nothing here. He's exercising his discretion as a career public servant within the executive branch that's headed by the president of the United States.
The way we oversee that is not by jumping the fence, the way Congress did with this political memorandum, with, you know, one-sided facts. That's not how it works. You go to the courts.
Congress can amend the FISA statute. Congress can hold hearings. We want to get everything out.
We have a democratic system where facts and rule of law govern. That is at stake here. This is serious.
BLITZER: These are all Republicans.
BLITZER: Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, is a Republican. Christopher Wray --
HENDERSON: Christopher Wray.
BLITZER: -- the FBI director, is a Republican. Robert Mueller --
HENDERSON: Republican, yes.
BLITZER: -- special counsel is a -- we're talking about Republicans and clearly the president is losing a lot of confidence in his fellow Republicans.
VINOGRAD: But at this point, everything that we're talking about is exactly what the Russians wanted to see happen. I mean, DIA issued a report that said the whole purpose of Russia's information warfare campaign was to confuse and demoralize the American people. We're all sitting here rightly reading this memo, it is a piece of trash, picking it apart, talking about FISA processes when the American people and all of us are confused about what's going on. And so --
BAER: I know what's going on. The president is desperate to stop this investigation.
VINOGRAD: Seems that way. Yes.
BAER: You would only go down this road if you're desperate because you know what Mueller has on you and you have to stop it any way you can. Even if you have wreck the FBI and discredit the Department of Justice, only reason I could imagine you would do this.
VINOGRAD: I don't think it's a coincidence that he is so focused on an agency that has the counterintelligence mandate, right? I mean, the FBI works to protect the country against foreign intelligence attacks and he's spending so much time attacking them.
BLITZER: But if his goal was to discredit this entire Robert Mueller Russia probe, for a big chunk of the country out there right now, he has succeeded because they think it is partisan witch hunt.
HENDERSON: Deep state, sort of, yes.
BLITZER: Deep state is working against them.
[14:25:01] So, he succeeded in that if, in fact, that would be his goal.
Everybody, stand by. We're following all the breaking news. We're staying on top of it. Major historic developments unfolding right now here in Washington.
Our special coverage continues right after this.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The release of this Republican memo from the House intelligence community.
But look at this. The Dow Jones industrials in New York now, down 566 points. The biggest drop since the president took office.
Let's go to CNN's Alison Kosik in New York for us.
Alison, what's the analysis? What's behind this drop? It looks like it's going to be the worst week for the Dow since the president took office.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and it looks like the Dow is on track to have its worst point loss since June of 2016.