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Trump Authorizes Memo Release; Trump Calls Bias a Disgrace; No Redactions from White House; Nunes Memo Released. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The committee on intelligence web page.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: OK. All right, we'll be keeping an eye out for that.

Michael Zeldin, thank you so much.

Our breaking news that the president has authorized the released of this controversial Republican-written memo is going to continue. Our breaking news continuing next with Dana Bash right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this hour, a White House official tells CNN that President Trump has authorized the release of that highly controversial House Republican memo about the Russia investigation. The FBI still says it has grave concerns about the memo, which CNN is told alleges agency abuse with the secret surveillance warrant process.

I want to get straight to CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Jeff, what can you tell us?


We do know that President Trump has indeed signed the order to declassify this House Republican memo that he has been studying and reading for the last several days. He just spoke about this a few moments ago in the Oval Office at the end of another event. We'll be hearing from that shortly. But he did talk about what he's been talking about for days now, what he believes the bias in the top ranks of the FBI against him.

Of course, this all goes back to the Trump campaign, the beginnings of the Russia investigation. He is making the argument that the FBI was biased against him in their application for a FISA warrant, for a wiretap and warrant essentially here. So this House memo, again, a partisan document written by House Republicans is going to be released later today. It is being -- word is being sent from here at the White House over to Capitol Hill and the speaker's office to have that three and a half page memo released that will go into at least some detail, again, from the perspective of supporters of the president here, about that warrant.

But, Dana, we should also point out, there are no redactions to this memo. For the last several days, there have been big considerations, big discussions here underway if this memo would be changed in some respect to ease some concerns of the FBI. As you'll remember, the FBI director said he had grave concerns about this. They said it was a national security risk. We are told by a White House official this morning there will be no redactions to this memo. So it will be released as it was written by the committee here.

So, Dana, this is really setting up and, you know, escalating an already pretty major confrontation, a very major confrontation with the president and his Justice Department and his hand-picked FBI director. Now, the fallout from this, we will have to see how that develops.

Also Rod Rosenstein, of course, the person -- the deputy attorney general who is supervising Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation here, he is also mentioned in this memo likely here. So what will his fate be?

So, Dana, many shoes left to drop and fall on this. Important that we keep this in a perspective and context here. This is one slice of the Russia investigation, the main one, Special Counsel's Bob Mueller, of course, continues. But the president believes that this discredits that investigation. That's one of the reasons he signed off on the declassification of this memo.


BASH: It sure is.

ZELENY: I mean, Dana. Excuse me.

BASH: No problem, Jeff.

It sure is.

And I should tell you that we are waiting to hear from the president in less than a minute.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BASH: So stay with me while we wait for that -- while we wait for that tape.

You mentioned -- oh, here we go. Let's listen to the president.



Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.


QUESTION: What do you think of the memo?

TRUMP: I think the memo -- 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 and 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.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the FBI doesn't want the memo out?

TRUMP: Thank you very much.



TRUMP: You figure that one out.

QUESTION: But we haven't seen it yet, though.

TRUMP: Well, no, I don't think so. These are just great people that have suffered incredibly. There were many, many others like them that have suffered so much. And they were here and I said, let's -- let's tell you a story very quickly. We have others in a different room, as I told you, that are really petrified to be here. Petrified. So it's tough stuff. It's tough stuff.


TRUMP: Well, we're doing a lot. We've done more than -- I mean we have many administrations that should have acted on this a long time ago when -- when it wasn't that this kind of a -- when we weren't in this kind of a position. You know, we ran out of road. You know the expression, the road really ended. They could have done it 12 years ago. They could have done it 20 years ago. They could have done it four years ago and two years ago. We have no road left. So we'll see what happens.

[12:05:27] But, in the meantime, we'll get through the Olympics and maybe something good can come out of the Olympics. Who knows.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you still have confidence in Rosenstein (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.

QUESTION: Super Bowl prediction? Super Bowl prediction, sir? TRUMP: I better not get involved.


BASH: That was President Trump moments ago talking about the fact that he has formally, officially declassified this controversial House Republican Intelligence Committee memo, told that committee that they are free to release it to the public, which they have made clear they are going to do. And, in fact, we are waiting. That could happen any moment now.

And while we wait for that, I want to bring in our team who has been covering this for months and months and months and been breaking a lot of news on it. Let's bring in CNN's crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's senior political reporter, and CNN political director David Chalian.

Also I want to say that in New York we have CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin.

Thanks for joining me, Michael.

Let's start here around the table first and foremost with those comments we just heard from the president.

Gloria, talking very specifically and very openly, like he did on Twitter this morning, accusing his own DOJ, Department of Justice, his own FBI, of being political.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It's a disgrace, he said. What's going on is a disgrace.

And so I think what you -- what you may see in this memo are Republicans claiming that somebody, Carter Page, was under surveillance because of politics and that the whole dossier was the rationale, which the president hates, of course, was the rationale for the surveillance. And this is a way for the president, Dana, to discredit the Mueller investigators and, thereby, without directly poking his finger in Bob Mueller's eye, discredit the special counsel.

So what he's done is he's sent this to Capitol Hill now. It will be released. It is in the process of being released. And the whole purpose of it is to discredit the top echelon of the FBI, who approved this surveillance.

BASH: And we really should, as we're waiting -- and we are -- just forgive me for looking at my phone for -- we're reporting and talking to you on TV real time here.

But, Shimon, it's very, very important to underscore, as we get this memo and as we go through it, the real deal here, which is, it is a highly political memo. It is just done by the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, which breaks with precedent for this committee, which is generally an oasis of non-partisanship, never mind bipartisanship. And that is why your sources at the FBI and DOJ are upset, right, because they think this is cherry-picked.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Certainly. Correct. And certainly they've been bracing for this now all morning with news that this is now coming. And we will see how they react once it comes out.

But this has been their central issue with this, and that it is extremely one-sided. That it does not paint the full picture of what the FBI was doing and the intelligence that they were gathering and the work that they were doing and so their concern has been is that this is just going to show a one-sided sort of way this investigation was going, thereby making it seem political, discrediting FBI agents who have spent months now, perhaps more than a year, working on this case. And because really the FBI can't talk about this, they can't talk about FISA material, they can't really defend themselves. So that -- the only -- their only defense was that statement. And that was, obviously, a stunning statement.

BASH: And as we wait to see this memo, which is three and a half pages, it's not -- it's not very long, I want to read to you what Senator John McCain, who's the chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, has said via statement. He is back in Arizona dealing with treatment for cancer. But he is speaking out and here's what he said.

He said just now, the latest attacks on the FBI and the Department of Justice serve no American interest, no parties, no presidents, only Putin's. The American people deserve to know all the facts surrounding Russia's ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy, which is why Special Counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded. Our nation's elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin's job for him.

[12:10:22] That is some strong stuff, David Chalian.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It sure is. And, thank you, John McCain, for bringing this back to what this is actually about.

BASH: What it's supposed to be about.

CHALIAN: There was an act on our democracy. That's actually what -- where this all stemmed from. I have a feeling if John McCain heard the president's word, he might think disgraced or people that should be ashamed of themselves should apply elsewhere, not where Donald Trump is applying it.

Here's the reality. Gloria is talking about this effort to discredit the Mueller investigation, which is clearly what this is about. To Donald Trump, this is -- but that's a month's long effort. And this is another data point for him.

But it -- what he is missing here is, to Shimon's point, the severity of what you do when you are saying to your law enforcement agencies that you should be ashamed of yourselves. That -- this -- this isn't just another data point -- should not be just another data point in Donald Trump's efforts to discredit. And, by the way, the month's-long effort at discrediting the Mueller investigation is working.

BASH: Yes.

CHALIAN: It's working with republicans. It's working to help muddy the waters as Donald Trump wants to. It puts everything in the Russia realm into this partisan lens that John McCain is arguing it should not be in (ph).


CHALIAN: Well, no, no, no, that -- that --

BASH: You're just talking about politics.

CHALIAN: I'm just talking about the politics.


BASH: And -- and I think that it also bears highlighting, underscoring, putting on a billboard here that nobody is saying that this FISA process, which is all about obtaining a secret warrant to surveil an American citizen should not have very strict oversight, very strict scrutiny. And if there are problems with it, it should be uncovered and it should be corrected. The problem is the system here and the process through which The Republicans --

HENDERSON: And the problem is that the Republicans so far aren't focusing on that, right? I mean if they wanted to talk about that, talk about the FISA process, talk about very specific instances of abuse, they could do that. That's not what they're doing. They are a part of what David and what everybody around this table is talking about, which is an effort to taint this Bob Mueller investigation.

And as they're doing that, they're sort of pretending that they're not doing that, right? I mean Paul Ryan is essentially like, yes, let's release this memo, but also, let the Bob Mueller investigation go on.

PROKUPECZ: They're in the FISA process and I think we need to -- as this comes out, we need to keep this in mind. There are layers and layers of process.


PROKUPECZ: It goes from U.S. attorneys, it goes to the court. Lawyers for the FISA court who review this before it's submitted to the actual judge just to make sure that everything is in order. And also what you're going to see is going to come up in this, and there's been reports about this, is that this has to do with renewals, which is a much different issue. And this, I think, is what the FBI has an issue with. In order to get a renewal at the FISA court, you have to go to the judge and say there is stuff coming. We're getting information out of our original FISA and so therefore we need to keep this going. And the judge -- BASH: Has to prove that it's working.

PROKUPECZ: It's fruitful.

BASH: That it's of value.

PROKUPECZ: Right, that it's of value. And what we're going to probably see and what I think some folks have said to us is that it was fruitful. There was value in the work that they were doing. We'll see what the memo says.

BASH: I want to just go back to something that the president, in that tape we just played from the Oval Office, was asked about. Our CNN contributor, "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman asked the president if he still has confidence in Rod Rosenstein, who's the deputy attorney general. Listen to that exchange?


QUESTION: Are you likely to fire Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in (INAUDIBLE)?



BASH: That was a glowing endorsement. And just by way of context, we can explain why, as we anticipate this memo being released, why Rod Rosenstein and the questions about him is pertinent.

BORGER: Right. Well, Rod Rosenstein would have to have approved this FISA renewal. So he's in the crosshairs right now. We have known from our own reporting, and you've done so much of it, Dana, is that the president hasn't been thrilled with Rod Rosenstein, and that privately he is telling people that this may be one way for him to get rid of Rod Rosenstein.

BASH: Right.

BORGER: Why would he want to get rid of Rod Rosenstein? Because --


BORGER: Because if he were to ask Rod Rosenstein, say, to fire Bob Mueller, Rod Rosenstein probably would not do that. But that's a story for another day, OK? Right now Rod Rosenstein is in his crosshairs. His name might be in this. We don't -- you know, we don't know. But the president looks at this, and I can't emphasize this enough. He looks at this through his own personal lens about what it means for him. He has never had any loyalty to institutions.

[12:15:13] Shimon talks about the FBI. You talk about the Justice Department. He got elected by busting norms and being against institutions. So now that he's in Washington and he's taking on institutions, it doesn't matter to him. It's not as if he has any loyalty to that or any sense of history about it. It is about how will this work for him in front of the special counsel, period.

BASH: So true. So true. And as we wait for this memo to be released, I want to go back to the White House, to Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, I want to talk about something that you reported at the top of the show about the question about redactions, meaning blacking out anything that is in this memo for whatever reason. Traditionally it's for national security reasons. Who knows in this case.

You're saying that there was no White House-initiated redactions, but that doesn't mean that there aren't going to be redactions when we see it. Explain.

ZELENY: Indeed. Indeed, Dana, that is our understanding. A White House official here told us just a short time ago that there were no White House redactions to this three and a half page House Intelligence Committee memo here. So what that means is there has been a discussion, as you know, as we reported yesterday, there was a discussion inside the West Wing with the chief of staff, John Kelly. Should there be some changes made, some language perhaps omitted or struck that would ease some of the concerns of the FBI.

So the -- it was part of the White House sort of going through the steps of doing their due diligence or trying to show they were doing their due diligence, even though the president acknowledged on a hot mic in the State of the Union address, you know, that he planned to release this regardless. But there are no redactions to this memo.

Now, the House committee could certainly -- it's up to them to release what they want to release. So they could potentially redact or change something. But from the White House, after the president reviewed it, he has declassified that memo in its whole. So there are not any redactions coming from here. So that is the point there.

But the Rod Rosenstein question that the president was asked in the Oval Office, perhaps maybe the most significant thing coming from the president today, this -- as we go beyond this, he, of course, is overseeing the special counsel's investigation here. He, of course, like many, is a Republican. The president, of course, was pointing out this morning that the top ranks of the FBI biased against him. Important to point out here, these are all Republican appointees here. So not exactly the strict partisan lines he would like people to believe.

But at least as of now, no redactions here at the White House.


BASH: Jeff, thank you for that report.

And what you just said about Rod Rosenstein is really key, because if Rod Rosenstein is undermined in -- for any way as the fallout for this, he is going to either be fired or feel that he has to quit. That gives the president a very large opening in his mind -- there you see who Rod Rosenstein is and the top point there is the key here, that he oversees the Russia investigation. If the president sees an opening there, I and my colleagues here have been told that there is very preliminary chatter about what he could do to change the way this Russia investigation is going.

BASH: OK, everybody, we are waiting for this memo to be released. We're going to sneak in a quick break.

Stand by, actually. Forgive me, everybody. This is breaking news. So we're not going to go to a break because we have somebody who is really, really plugged in and has incredible experience on this, and that is our CNN analyst and former House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers.

I just want to get, as we are sort of on the precipice of your former committee, the Republicans on it releasing this memo, what are your thoughts?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, listen, I'm a little bit concerned because now we're going to have dueling memos. So now the Democrats are going to put their memo with their spin on it. Republicans clearly have put their spin on it. The FBI and the intelligence community has expressed, not only publicly but privately, concerns about what's in the memo.

BASH: And I'm just going to interrupt you by telling you --

ROGERS: No worries.

BASH: And telling our viewers that the memo has now been released. Our team is going through it. They're looking at it. I wanted to let you know at home that that has happened.

And I'm sorry to interrupt you. Go back.

We'll get it to you as soon as we get the specifics.

Go ahead.

ROGERS: Well, I think we'll have a very different conversation after we've all read the memo.

BASH: Yes.

ROGERS: But, clearly, I do think it speaks to the dysfunction of the committee that they can't do a joint investigation. If they believe that there was malfeasance in the application for a FISA warrant, if somebody did something either illegal or untoward, they need to have a full investigation in the confines of classified space and put out a joint report of what happened. This back and forth is only going to lead the public to pull against themselves.

[12:20:05] BASH: I'm just going to ask you point blank -- I'm just going to ask you point blank, do you think that this is a raw, political exercise?

ROGERS: Well, it sure feels like it to me. I mean there's no reason to have a Republican memo and a Democratic memo. Now that's not to say that there's not differences in these committees. But normally what would happen is you'd put out the report and then you'd have dissenting views in the back of that report so that you get the flavors of like, I don't agree with everything, I agree with some things in the report, but here's where I disagree. That's a -- that, to me, a better product. And it's easier for everybody, the American people to look at and come to a conclusion.

BASH: I want to get to New York, to Michael Zeldin, our legal analyst who has experience with all of these matters. Maybe not working on the House Intelligence Community, but working on the DOJ side and working specifically for Robert Mueller.

We're just starting to get information. But before we have -- again, a few seconds to digest it, what are your thought, Michael?

ZELDIN: So pretty much what has been the consensus of your panelists so far. Rosenstein seems to be on the bubble based on the president's answers. They are going to attack the Comey team that probably applied for this FISA warrant initially. They're attack Rosenstein for the renewal of it. And they're putting the interests of the president ahead of the national interests as a matter of security. So -- of national security. So this is not a good day for the intelligence community or for law enforcement generally.

The thing that has to be kept in mind about this FISA application that seems to be at the heart of it is that Carter Page is an American. So you can't target him. You can only target foreigners. And if there's incidental communications, then you can apply to get that.

Now, in the 702 FISA reapplication hearings, the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee pretty much said this is a foolproof process, the warrant process. The judges on the FISA court are particularly adept at this stuff. They are appointed to that court by Chief Justice Roberts of the United States Supreme Court. So they said to America, in 702 hearings, you have nothing to worry about.

However, of course, now when it affects them personally, they say the whole system is flawed and the intelligence that was brought in may have some of the Steele dossier in it, and it just speaks to terrible, terrible policymaking and pretty transparent politics. And that's bad. It's bad that the president bought into that in what appears to be his view of his own self-interests over national interests.

BASH: And bought into it, and more than that, encouraged it, instigated it here. And I think that is one thing that we have to also keep underscoring, that the president of the United States, despite the fact that the House speaker has said that this is important, that this is about congressional oversight, this is about making sure that the secret court is kept in check and not about the credibility of the Mueller investigation. The president, according to our reporting, has been saying the opposite when he has been talking to sources.

ZELDIN: That's right. And, Dana --

BASH: Go ahead, Michael. ZELDIN: That's right. And if that -- if that were true, when Christopher Wray asked to brief the entire committee in a classified session to answer all of these questions, the committee would have said yes. But they said no. They denied Wray the opportunity to come up and brief the committee about their concerns with respect to this FISA application or FISA generally. And so that, I think, sort of bursts the notion that this is in the proper oversight process and this is really much more about trying to undermine the Mueller investigation by attacking one FISA warrant against Carter Page. And that's not good.

And the irony, of course, if you're Bob Mueller and you have the president of the United States, if it's true, that he's telling friends on the phone that he's going to release this because it's going to interfere with the Mueller investigation or undermine the Mueller investigation, essentially he's giving Mueller exhibit number whatever, 22, in his mosaic of obstructionist behavior as to the Mueller probe itself. So the president says, I'm going to try to interfere with the Mueller investigation by releasing this memo. Mueller probably writes down on his list, all right, here's another thing that the president is doing to try to interfere with my investigation and I'll have to evaluate that in terms of my obstruction of justice analysis. Incredible.

BASH: OK. Michael, thank you so much.

I just was handed the memo. We have it right here. But because we are all on live television, we are waiting for our expert reporters who are going through it as we speak. So don't go anywhere while we just wait for them to come on and give us the highlights of the most important things.

David Chalian, as we wait for this and as we have it here, I'm going to let you talk and I'm going to go through it.

[12:25:05] HENDERSON: Very kind.

CHALIAN: I was trying to read through it a little bit.

BASH: Go for it.

CHALIAN: I don't think there are going to be any surprises here, right? I think a lot of what we anticipated beforehand seems to be in here. Again, I think one of the clear things here, and perhaps we haven't hit on this quite as much, they spend a lot of time that I can tell here really trying to discredit Christopher Steele, the author of that dossier. We're going to -- we are going to be back in a very large conversation about that original dossier for quite some time here because they -- they are really attempting to discredit that as a basis for anything they did.

BASH: David, stand by.

I want to get to our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, who, as we said, has been part of the team looking through this memo. Jim, give us some highlights.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Dana, these are the highlights. I've been sitting down with team members Evan Perez, Pamela Brown, Manu Raju and others as we look through to what are the salient points here. And I'm going to run through, if I can, just really the bullet points that seem to be the highlights of the Nunes memo and then attempt to give some context, which I know that my colleagues will do as well.

So, first a few of them.

One, that we now know that there were four applications for FISA surveillance warrants here. An initial application to monitor Carter Page, who was, for a time, an adviser to the Trump campaign, and then three renewals of that warrant to surveil Carter Page, these during 2016.

Now, the allegations that Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, makes in his memo is that Andrew McCabe, the now former deputy director of the FBI, that he told the House Intelligence Committee that those warrants, that initial warrant, would not have been issued without the information contained in the Steele dossier. Something we've reported on before. Just for the sake of our viewers, this was prepared by former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, with money initially coming from Republican opponents of Donald Trump and then later from the Democratic National Committee. And this has been a frequent target of Republicans, including the president, saying that this was in effect Democratic research that led to this memo. So this Nunes memo claims that Andrew McCabe told the committee that that warrant on Carter Page would not have been issued without information contained in that dossier.

I'm going to provide some context on that, but first let me run through some of the other bullet points.

Another point the Nunes memo claims is that the judge, who issued and approved these warrants and then renewals of the applications to monitor Carter Page, that he was not made aware of the source of the funding for the Steele dossier, specifically that some $160,000, according to the memo, came from the Democratic National Committee, or the memo says the political origins of this. In other words, the judge issued those memos not knowing that the information they were being presented with had Democratic funding and backing behind it. Not shared with the judge. And that the DOJ and the FBI knew of those origins but did not tell the judge. Again, this according to Nunes' account.

There are a couple other points he makes in here, charges, allegations. He says that the spy, Christopher Steele, the former spy, had an agenda against Trump. It's not clear what exactly the evidence is for that, but they say that an FBI official told the Department of Justice that he believed that Steele, who wrote this memo, had a strong anti-Trump bias. The memo also claims that the spy's contact with the FBI was cut off it claims due to ties he had with reporters. For instance, it claims that he leaked some of this information to "Yahoo! News."

I should also note that this memo -- and I'm sorry to run through this, because there is a lot in here -- it also mentions Manu Raju, told by Devin Nunes in a conference call, that information from George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign adviser, who you remember this is a previous story, where he told an Australian diplomat of -- that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in a conversation, that that Australian diplomat then reported to his U.S. colleagues that that was included in these applications here.

So it's a lot to digest. I would say the headline there, Dana, is this claim that Andrew McCabe told the committee that those warrants, four of them, one warrant and three renewals, would not have been issued without the dossier. But I will say, CNN's previous reporting is that the FBI had other corroborating information about Carter Page beyond what was contained in the dossier. And the fact is my colleagues Evan Perez, Pamela Brown, they cover the Justice Department a lot, I've been told the same from intelligence officials, this is not just -- this is just not the way the FISA court works. It does not -- you don't come before that court with information obtained by a third party and say, hey, listen, this is all we got. You would need, and it is CNN's reporting, that the FBI had further corroborating information on that.

So it's a lot to digest there and I know I've got a lot of colleagues with a lot of depth of knowledge here, but that's our best first reading of what's in here.

[12:30:04] BASH: Very important. And I think that last point is so key, Jim, about the fact that -- and that this is a specific memo making specific allegations and what they say are findings.