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SMERCONISH

The Nunes Memo and the Christopher Steele Dossier Were Discussed and the Facts Evaluated and Compared to the Watergate Scandal of the Nixon Era; A Radical Picture of Obama?; Bob Costas Came to Mutually Agreeable Decision with NBC to Not Host Super Bowl LII Pre-Show; #ReleasetheMemo Vs. the Actual Nunes Memo More Politically Potent?. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 3, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish coming to you from the home city of the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Well, after weeks of drum rolls, the notorious Devin Nunes memo is out. It aims to discredit the infamous Steele dossier partly because Steele leaked his findings to reporter Michael Isikoff. Isikoff is here to discuss.

But what if the dossier is neither proof of Trump wrongdoing nor Democratic propaganda, but rather Russian espionage disinformation to disrupt both parties and our country?

And if this 2005 picture of Barack Obama and Lewis Farrakhan was made public back when it was taken, it might have derailed his election. What lesson can we learn from that?

Plus, for this life-long Eagles fan, tomorrow's Super Bowl LII should be a dream come true. So why am I dogged with doubts?

But first, at long last the notorious Nunes memo is now in the public domain. This is the outcome sought by Congressional Republicans and their media supporters, and in the end, the President. Whether the release is in their long-term partisan best interests, well, that remains to be seen and I have my doubts. I say that because until yesterday, the President enjoyed the best of all worlds. GOP members of Congress were quick to give interviews in conservative outlets talking about the dire picture that the memo painted without any fear of being challenged on that assessment.

The memo, we were told by one commentator would make Watergate look like the theft of Snickers. Well, that is impossible to refute when you can't taste the candy. As a result the President's base was inflamed about a document none of them had actually read. But now it is out. And subject to scrutiny and whether it can withstand evidentiary analysis, well that is a different question. The memo claims to prove a breakdown of the legal process established to protect Americans.

Read closely, the story is not so straight forward. The focus is Carter Page, who was on the FBI radar before the rise of Donald Trump and whose role in the campaign the President has gone great lengths to minimize. The memo suggests Page was surveilled with the approval of a FISA court based on an October 21, 2016, probable cause order that relied on intel that the court did not know was paid for by the Clinton campaign. I think that funding source should have been revealed.

And so too the fact that the original Fusion GPS client, before Christopher Steele, was a conservative media outlet. The Nunes memo doesn't raise that objection and even if more had been told the FISA court about the funding, it is not at all clear to me that the FISA order wouldn't have been issued anyway. After all, Christopher Steele wasn't employed by DNC or Hillary. He was hired by Fusion GPS.

And what about the date of the first of four FISA applications? October 21. That was in the final days of the Presidential campaign. The wiki leaks dump had already taken place. The third and final Presidential debate was two days prior. If the aim were to undermine the Trump campaign and prevent his election, you would think that this deep state apparatus would have mobilized much sooner, no?

And actually the Russian investigation was under way before Carter Page having nothing to do with him or FISA as referenced in the final paragraph of the Nunes memo. It was in July of 2016, three months before the first FISA court application that the probe was begun. It was after Trump Campaign Advisor George Padopoulous told an Australian diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The point is, the Russian probe was begun before and independent of Carter Page. There's more but you get the point. Are there troubling questions raised by the Nunes memo? Yes. Some. But under a microscope, they do not undermine Robert Mueller's probe into Russia manipulation of our election. I'm withholding final judgment until the read the Democratic response to the memo.

And speaking of which, I don't see the grave concerns that the FBI claimed it had about the contents of the Nunes memo, that the Democrats and FBI worked so hard to keep the Nunes memo out of the public eye, that only makes me distrustful of both sides. So let's see everything, and only then will we know for sure whether the President would have been better off letting his supporters get worked into lather by their media outlets about something they could not read, rather than permit its release and spur a substantive conversation.

I want to know what you think. Go to my website, smerconish.com right now and answer this question, which do you think was more politically potent, #release the memo,

[09:05:00]

or the actual Nunes memo. I'll tell you the results at the end of the program.

Now, one reason the Devin Nunes memo said the Steele dossier should be discredited is the accusation that Christopher Steele linked his alleged findings to the media including my next guest. The October 2016 Carter Page FISA application cited this September 23 Yahoo! News article by Michael Isikoff, focusing on Page's July 2016 trip to Moscow. The Nunes memo claims, "this article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo! News.

Joining me now is Michael Isikoff, the Chief Investigative Correspondent for Yahoo! News, co-author by the way with David Corn of the forthcoming book, "Russian Roulette, the Inside Store of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump." Out next month. Michael, this gets confusing for some who are not read in. Give me context so I can understand the reference to you in that memo.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, AUTHOR AND CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT FOR YAHOO! NEWS: Well, I got to say, I was as surprised as anybody that I was cited in the memo and apparently having -- was cited before the FISA court. But the story that I wrote in September 2016 was the first story to reveal that there was U.S. Intelligence investigation of somebody associated with the Trump campaign, and that was Carter Page.

Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, has acknowledged in a British court filing, that he came to the -- to Washington in September of that year and briefed multiple journalists, including one from Yahoo! News, that's me. So I am free to talk about that and say yes, in fact, he did. I heard -- I met him and heard about the work he was doing and the concerns he had that he had picked up about Carter Page's contacts in Moscow during that trip in July.

I then went about when checking out Christopher Steele, talked to people who had worked with him, talked to others about Carter Page and how he had been on the radar screen of U.S. Officials for some time. And I did confirm what to me, was most significant part of what Christopher Steele had to say, which was that his material had been presented to the FBI. The FBI was very interested in it, and following up. And that was in fact the story that we published at the time, that there was a U.S. Intelligence investigation into these allegations relating to Carter Page.

We did not say that we had verified with Christopher Steele had to say. That was something the FBI was seeking do and that's what we reported.

SMERCONISH: If I'm understanding, I think this is the important part. The implication of the Nunes memo is that the dossier source and the Yahoo! News source, your source, were one and the same and therefore, not to be relied on, which begs the questions, what additional reporting, if any, did you do to confirm what Christopher Steele told you for Yahoo! News?

ISIKOFF: Well I think I just explained that which was that there were multiple sources quoted in the story about Carter Page, about the U.S. Government's interest in him, and that was the thrust of the story. Whether or not Carter Page met with the specific individuals that are referenced in the Steel dossier is still unknown to me and I believe, as far as I can tell, to the U.S. government.

Now Carter Page has acknowledged in his testimony that he did have meetings in Moscow with Russian, a Russian - senior Russian Government official and an aide to Igor Sechin. Igor Sechin is the guy cited in the Steele dossier, the head of Rosneft, the Russian energy firm, and a close crony of Vladimir Putin is on the U.S. Sanctions list. He had denied at first that he had any meetings of such a nature.

He acknowledged before the House Intelligence Committee that he met with the Head of Investor Relations for Rosneft and the Deputy Prime Minister in Russia and then wrote emails to the Trump campaign citing these meetings and offering to provide the insights he had gleaned from his trip to Trump campaign officials. Look, this is a highly selective memo clearly. There is much more that went into that FISA application. We know both from the Democrats and from our own sources in the U.S. Government which we haven't yet seen.

Until we see the full picture, it's very hard to know to what extent my story would have been a factor in the decision to grant the FISA application. Other than to say, and this is probably the most important thing Michael, there were three renewals of this FISA application.

SMERCONISH: Right, with a probable cause showing for each.

ISIKOFF: That goes far beyond - yes, yes, -- and so that goes far beyond what was in the original application. The FBI would have had to have gotten fruitful intelligence that it could then go back to the court and say here is the basis for continuing this FISA.

SMERCONISH: Michael, I'm limited on time, but an important quick final question. We've all heard about Christopher Steele. You've dealt with him. Did he strike you as being motivated bipartisanship, by annimus toward Donald Trump or a concern over security?

ISIKOFF: The latter. Look, he is a serious guy. He was the MI-6 Russia specialist for many years. And we'll have in the forthcoming book, we'll have some very interesting stories about the role that he played for MI-6. He had this private investigative firm. He was well regarded in the field. He was known as a Russia specialist. He had been a source for both the FBI and the State Department for many years on matters relating to Russia and Ukraine.

So I checked him out at the time. He was clearly a serious guy. And yeah, what he had learned, he was seriously concerned about. He thought it was a genuine national security threat. The accuracy of what he had to say, the jury is still out. But the fact that he had these credentials and was concerned was something that was concerning to the FBI.

SMERCONISH: Michael Isikoff, thank you. I appreciate it.

ISIKOFF: Sure enough.

SMERCONISH: On the dossier itself, we're going to go there now. Among the goals of the Nunes memo is to discredit the infamous Steele dossier alleging Trump's Russia connections as partisan opposition research. But, my next guest says there is another more sinister possibility. Daniel Hoffman is a retired CIA agent who served in the former Soviet Union. He was a station chief. He is the author of this "Wall Street Journal" piece, "The Steele Dossier Fits The Kremlin Playbook." You say the dossier might be the product of Russian espionage. How so? DANIEL HOFFMAN CIA, RETIRED: I spent many years working against

Russian intelligence and I'm very, very well aware of the challenges of collecting information or intelligence inside Russia. And we know that Mr. Steele, himself, never traveled there, and I think that the FSB, Russia's internal security police, would have detected his efforts to collect information from Russian sources on the campaign, on the Trump campaign, and on Donald Trump. And then I think that they would have sought potentially to use that as a channel to weaponize disinformation against us. It would absolutely fit with the FSB play book, with the KGB playbook as well.

SMERCONISH: So some people look at the Steele dossier and they question contents and say well that's not true. But there are aspects of it that have been borne out. Now, how does that factor into your --

HOFFMAN: Right.

SMERCONISH: -- analysis that this could have all been the product of espionage?

HOFFMAN: Right. So the Russian intelligence modus operandi, when they're feeding you information, whether it's a double agent operation or propaganda, is to give you high percentage of information that is true -- 90, 95% might be true. And that is to create, for the reader at least, a picture that, well, this looks like a pretty good report. It enhances the veracity of the overall report. And then they will sprinkle in their themes, which they wish to propagate, which are not true and those are designed to influence the target audience.

SMERCONISH: So the most salacious aspect of the dossier, the so- called shower, you know what I'm talking about, does that come from the playbook as something that they create or as something that they carry out, or both?

HOFFMAN: It could be either one. It absolutely could have been something they created. They have certainly done that plenty of times. They have tried to use honey traps with people and when those honey traps aren't successful, they will just simply make up the information themselves. And in this case I think they know that if they had supplied salacious information, I mean that is kind of a red cape in front of Donald Trump's charge. Remember that the President had said during the campaign that he thought that the system was rigged against him. I think the Russians were listening very carefully to that and maybe after the election if the Russians had thought Secretary Clinton would have won, that Donald Trump would have criticized and rightly so, vociferously this dossier paid for on by the DNC with this salacious information as evidence that the system was rigged in some way against him.

[09:15:00] SMERCONISH: So here is what I'm taking away Mr. Hoffman, that this guy, Christopher Steele, would have been known to the Russians because of his role with MI-6, the fact that he was doing his surveillance remotely would have ended up on their radar screen, and coupled with the knowledge by the Russians that they cracked the DNC server, lends itself to a situation where, as puppeteers, they could sit back and manipulate this whole process.

HOFFMAN: Right. And then the last step is what we may see now. I would encourage the viewers to be on the lookout for Russia to continue to use our social networking and media sites to highlight what we're now seeing as acrimony and partisan bickering between the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees, between the President and his Department of Justice. Those are themes that Russia will seem to propagate through disinformation going forward.

SMERCONISH: Makes it awfully difficult for us and people at home to understand what is truth and what is fiction relative to the dossier. Daniel Hoffman, thank you so much for being here.

HOFFMAN: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. What do we have, Katherine? It didn't live up to the hype because the memo was incomplete. This was a dud and Nunes didn't even read the underlying intelligence. This was a joke. Well, Radu, a lot of people got worked in to a lather over what they thought was going to be in it and what they do now and where they go for their information now remains to be seen, right?

I mean a critical analysis of this, I think, brings me to the same conclusion as you. I could go through this memo line by line and ask questions that need to be answered. And pick it apart frankly. The President, politically speaking, I think would have been better served, politically speaking, had it never seen the light of day. And that is what I'm asking by the way at Smerconish.com.

Go to my website and answer the question, which was more politically potent, #release the memo meaning all the hype, the buildup, or the actual Nunes memo? We'll tally the results at the end of the program. I understand there's a lot of voting. Up ahead, Robert Mueller's Russia probe continues, but will it result in a case for obstruction of justice? That's a different question, what happens though, when Mueller finishes? Two constitutional law experts are here Ken Gormley and Jonathan Turley are next.

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[09:20:00]

SMERCONISH: Beyond the Nunes memo controversy, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is continuing his investigation. He knows a lot more than we do. But based on what we do know, what kind of case for obstruction of justice is coming together for Robert Mueller and where does this investigation end? Joining me now is Ken Gormley, he is the President of Duquesne

University and author of the book, "The President And The Constitution," as well as the biography of Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. And Jonathan Turley is Professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University. He is author of this recent piece for The Hill, "Outcry Over the Nunes Memo is Damming for Democrats and FBI." Jonathan, let me start with you. So I hold in my hands the Nunes memo. Where is the cause for the grave concern on the part of the FBI?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR AND AUTHOR: Well, turned out to be a bit of an empty grave and that is really what is the focus of my piece. You know, there are very good arguments on both sides about how significant the facts are of the memo. What I think should concern us first and foremost is that we went through a week of members and the FBI saying that there would be grave consequences, this would undermine national security, that these are serious breaches. And then we got the memo. And I've been doing national security work for a very long time, including FISA cases. This memo really didn't even come close to anything that I think anyone would say is classified, let alone disclosing sources and methods. And that should be a matter of concern. Because some of us who have been critics of FISA and critics of the intelligence community, have been arguing for years that the FBI routinely classifies information to prevent their embarrassment, for political or tactical reasons.

This is a rare case where that allegation I think is more than evident and obviously true. And I think that we need to go back to these members and to the FBI and say what gives? I mean, you can object to how this process worked, but you sold the public on the fact that this was a memo that would undermine national security. And it isn't. I mean there are lots of objections the FBI made, but you will notice that in the objections made by the director, he said this is inaccurate by omissions. That is not an argument of classification, that is an argument of how the facts are portrayed. And that concerns many of us is that fits a pattern of precisely that type of tactical use of classified laws.

SMERCONISH: The penultimate paragraph or paragraphs of the memo are those, I would argue, that say that the initial FISA court was not advised of the funding source for the dossier that led to the surveillance of Carter Page. I have a couple reactions to that, one of which is so what because the employer for Christopher Steele was not the DNC or that firm, it was Fusion GPS. And I know this as a trial lawyer, in the court of law, day in and day out, information comes from investigators. Now you can cross-examine in-on the basis of the source, but we surely don't throw it all out.

TURLEY: Well, you know my view Michael is that it is clear, and you said this earlier to your credit, that it should have been revealed. I mean, the fact that --

SMERCONISH: Right. I agree.

TURLEY: I mean the fact that Fusion was funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC certainly in the latter part, is obviously very important, and the question is why wouldn't it be revealed? It is also equally important that Steele is quoted as saying that he was desperate to try to keep President Trump from being elected. But how material is that? As I say in the column, we really don't know.

I mean, there is this reference that the Popendreyeo (ph) investigation preceded the dossier. I think there probably is a great deal in the FISA application that is not in this memo. I think both sides undermined their case. I think the Republicans sold this as a combination of the Pentagon Papers and the Zimmerman Telegram, and I think that the Democrats radically oversold their - played their

[09:25:00]

position by saying that this would be a grave breach of national security. And at least most of us saying who can you trust in this. And I think the answer, precisely as you said earlier, is that we just have to get all of this stuff disclosed. We have to start to release the transcript, see who is lying. Because the first thing the public needs to know is who they can believe, because right now, most of us believe neither side.

SMERCONISH: Professor Turley, thank you so much for being here.

TURLEY: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let me go to Ken Gormley, the President of Duquesne University. Mr. Gormley, you say the best way for President Trump to protect himself is to not engineer the firing of Robert Mueller. How come?

KEN GORMLEY, PRESIDENT OF DUQUESNE UNIVERSITY: Well, as you said Michael, I wrote the biography of Archibald Cox, the Watergate Special Prosecutor. Cox knew all along that President Nixon could fire him. He told me, the President can always work his will. The question is, at what cost. So it was not until Nixon fired Cox that you had the firestorm of protest that led to the appointment of a new special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, the subpoenaing of dozens of more tapes and unraveling of the Nixon presidency.

So you do that at your peril. The part of it that I have argued, Michael, we have not discussed that much is what happens if Mueller's investigation goes forward. And the part that we have not discussed so much is that most scholars agree, that a sitting President cannot be indicted or prosecuted while in office.

Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 69 made that point that the only remedy, if there is, even if Mueller found some criminal culpability would be removal from office by impeachment. Only after that, can there be some kind of criminal prosecution.

SMERCONISH: Okay.

GORMLEY: Okay. Otherwise you could paralyze the executive branch.

SMERCONISH: Okay, Ken Gormley, a Constitutional scholar, says you can't indict a sitting President. So let's say that Mueller reaches a conclusion, an ominous conclusion for President Trump. I assume he takes that report to Rod Rosenstein and it is Rosenstein within the Attorney General's office who now has to decide do I give it to the Congress, does it get made public. Where exactly are we going next? Is that fair to say? Because now, then I come back to your original point which is to say the President would hurt himself to fire Mueller and I assume you would say similarly he'd hurt himself if he were to try to fire Rosenstein.

GORMLEY: Absolutely. I agree with you Michael, and the key thing is that the real firewall that protects the President in this case or in any case, is Congress. If there is even a whiff of partisanship by Mueller's investigation, by Rod Rosenstein, by the FBI, if that report was then sent to Congress, you would have to have more than 50% of the Congress and the House vote to indict the President, then you would need two-thirds of the Senate, which is controlled as you know by Republicans, to vote to remove the President. It is almost impossible unless there was a terrible smoking gun which the President has said absolutely doesn't exist, and which I take him at his word. It would be virtually impossible to remove him. That is why no President in the history of this country has ever been removed.

So the best thing a President can do is not take the bait and get caught in that Constitutional bear trap and not provide the grist for the public outrage that existed in Watergate that ultimately brought down President Nixon.

SMERCONISH: Well, you've just given the President some pretty good legal advice. Very timely, because yesterday he was asked about Rosenstein and whether he is like I to fire the Deputy Attorney General and he said you figure that one out. So hopefully he is taking your free advice, Ken. Thank you so much for being here.

GORMLEY: Ok. Good luck to your Eagles today.

SMERCONISH: Thank you. Let's see what you are saying on my Smerconish twitter and Facebook pages. What do we have Katherine?

Can this memo be used as another piece in the obstruction of justice puzzle? Penny, my gut check says no because it is more the work of Nunes and his staff rather than the President, per se. What did the President do? The President allowed it to be released. But keep an eye on this, that Democratic memo and whether it sees the light of day will similarly be determined by the President. What will he do after that five day time period when it's on his desk?

[09:30:00]

Hopefully, read and understand everything.

Quick reminder, if you haven't yet gone to Smerconish.com to answer the survey question, do it. "Which do you think was more politically potent? #ReleasetheMemo, meaning the campaign last week, or the actual Nunes memo, now that it's out?" Coming at the end of the program.

Up next, a 2005 picture of then Senator Barack Obama recently surfaced that showed him with controversial Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. If it had been made public during the 2008 presidential race, perhaps it would've derailed his candidacy, and I think there's a lesson in that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:35:11] SMERCONISH: A picture of Barack Obama recently surfaced that might've sunk his chances of being president had we seen it sooner. And I think there's a lesson in that. It's a 2005 photograph taken at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting of a young Senator Obama before he decided to run for president. He's smiling with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The photographer, Askia Muhammad, says he did not make the picture public at the time because he believed it would've made a difference to Obama's political future. Even after Obama was nominated, elected, reelected, the photo was kept under wraps. Muhammad finally decided to release it as part of a self-published book.

It's important to remember, when Obama in 2008, opponents tried to paint him as a socialist, as a left-wing radical, and to be sure, he'd associated with some of the latter.

During the campaign, intense focus was brought to Obama's friendship with Bill Ayers, a co-founder of the Weather Underground, a revolutionary group founded in 1969 that bombed numerous public buildings.

And Reverend Jeremiah Wright -- who Obama had known since the '80s -- the two became close enough that Wright ended up officiating the Obamas' wedding, and the reverend inspired Obama so much that "The Audacity of Hope" was based on one of Wright's sermons.

But Wright also said some notoriously anti-American things in the wake of the September 11 Attacks. And in March of 2008, ABC ran an article detailing all of Wright's controversial sermons. Obama repeatedly had to distance himself, and finally, with his nomination perhaps on the line, he gave a major address on race at the National Constitution Center.

I was in the room that day when Obama declared that Wright's comments were only divisive and destructive. And he also added, "When Wright suggests that Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20st and 21st century... than there are no excuses."

Well, just imagine if this photo of Obama and Farrakhan appeared soon after that quote.

Farrakhan is toxic to a large swathe of America, due to his anti- Semitism and black separatism. He's a man with a history of controversial statements -- maybe his most cringe-worthy, though, was about Jewish people in 1985 at Madison Square Garden, where he said, "You cannot say 'Never again' to God because when he puts you in the oven, never again don't mean a damn thing."

In combination with a photo of Farrakhan, Senator Obama's relationship with Ayers and Reverend Wright could've looked all the more damning. The case for his radicalism would have been that much stronger, not just in the right-wing media, but in the center and on the left, too. Fear of a radical president could've prevented an Obama White House.

Here's the kicker -- as president, Obama was no radical; if anything, he was a left-of-center moderate. Domestically, Obama was a mixed bag. His trademark legislation, the

Affordable Care Act, was a policy idea created by the very conservative Heritage Foundation. For those that thought Obama might be a closet socialist, he surely disappointed when he refused to prosecute any of the major figures from the 2008 financial crisis. He also stacked his deficit commission with fiscal conservatives.

Meanwhile, President Obama was the biggest proponent to date of free market thinking in education using his Department of Education to encourage and fund charters across the country.

He went so far as to violate Pakistan's sovereignty in order to kill Osama bin Laden. President Obama may not have favored the words radical Islam, but he significantly increased President George W. Bush's drone attacks in the War against Terror. And he never did close GTMO.

The list could go on and on. Obama didn't violate gun rights the way that Conservatives feared; and he was the Deportation President on immigration.

By Nate Silver's measure, this political record made him a completely middle-of-the-road Democrat. DW-NOMINATE went one step further. The group estimated that Obama was actually the least liberal Democratic president since 1945.

Now, one can debate whether Obama was a true centrist, or whether he was a standard left-of-center Democrat, but radical? He was not. And maybe this is what they mean when they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have?

"Smerconish, a picture of Obama with Farrakhan. Context please? A picture of Trump with Russian spies in the Oval Office with no other Americans present?"

Hey, Patsy? I just gave you the context. There's always a story, right?

Still to come, for this lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, tomorrow should be, you know, pure thrills.

[09:40:00]

But there are aspects of the Big Game that are giving me pause. Look at that guy, and I will explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:44:13] SMERCONISH: Hey, did you notice I wore a green tie today in solidarity with the future Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

I've been supporting the bird since rooting for Roman Gabriel and the Fire High Gang back in the 1973 season. With my father and brother, I was a season ticket holder, and such a fan of Gabe that I wrote him a letter I still have. I wanted him to know that my brother and I were the ones who'd hung a better at Veterans Stadium that said, "Win One For The Gaber."

But as an adult, I'm excited, but I'm conflicted, and I'm apparently in good company with broadcast legend Bob Costas. It was supposed to be his eighth and final Super Bowl watching from home with the rest of us. That's a loss for the NFL.

When we hear Costas'

[09:45:00]

voice narrating an event, it imparts a feeling of consequence. He's also anchored 12 Olympics and 10 NBA Finals while earning 28 Emmys.

In an e-mail to "SportsBusiness Daily," Costas said the decision was mutually agreeable, and that he was actually happy about it. Quote, "I have long had ambivalent feelings about football, so at this point, it's better to leave the hosting to those who are more enthusiastic about it."

Well, I can attest to his ambivalence having interviewed him here on CNN on several occasions, including after he made headlines last November with remarks about the future of football.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS COMMENTATOR: No matter how exciting it is, no matter how much we value the generational connections, no matter how interesting it may be, the nature of the sport is that not all, or not most, but a substantial and alarming number of those who participate -- especially if they participate from youth football on -- are going to suffer significant brain damage along the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: It's not that Costas is anti-football. As he's told me, he grew up a fan, he's admired the many that he's met in the game, he appreciate the familial connections the sport engenders among its fans.

But he also calls them as he sees them, which is why the Concussion Legacy Foundation has honored him for his, quote, "Leadership keeping concussion and CTE conversation in the national spotlight."

There's nothing new about Costas' observations. He's said much the same thing over the span of a decade, and often, on NBC in front of the biggest audience, not just in all of sports, but in all of television on Sunday Night Football.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSTAS: A more urgent football issue -- concussions.

It's the hundreds if not thousands of subconcussive hits. Those are the ones that actually cumulatively take a greater toll than the concussions.

It may become like the Roman, you know, Circus --

BILL MAHER, TV HOST: It is.

COSTAS: -- people watch it, but they don't let their kids play it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: Costas can no longer embrace the game as he has in the past, and so, he feels he's not the right person to present it to an international audience.

Football's decline sin both television ratings and youth participation suggests that Costas speaks for many, including me. That doesn't mean I'll root for the Eagles any less; it just signifies that I'll do so with an awareness I did not have when, as a boy, I first walked into Veterans Stadium wearing my number 5 jersey with Gabriel on the back.

Still to come -- your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments, like this one. What do we got?

"Smerconish, as disreputable as the Eagles' fans may be, we still need you to beat the stinking Patriots. I'm an Eagles fan for another two days. Fly, Eagles, fly."

Hey, Jazz Shaw, I saw a poll -- don't know if I can trust it -- but 16 percent of Americans are rooting for the Patriots. And whenever the number is, I know it's a lot less than are rooting for the Eagles because the character of this team, and because, we're ready for another dynasty.

It's your last chance to respond to the survey question at Smerconish.com before I read the results. You know the poll question today. "Which do you think was more politically potent? #ReleasetheMemo, or the actual Nunes memo?" Results in a sec.

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[09:52:52] SMERCONISH: Hey, time to see how you responded to the survey question at Smerconish.com. I'm eager to see the results of this.

Which do you think was more politically potent? #ReleasetheMemo -- you know, the last two weeks of what we've seen -- or the actual memo, now that we have it?

Eight thousand two hundred and nine (LAUGHTER) votes cast. Hit me with it, Catherine (ph).

Seventy-one percent say it was #ReleasetheMemo -- meaning, the last two weeks, the campaign, and (ph) all that was said about it, then, the memo itself -- I think that's the right call. I'm in that 71 percent.

I mean, it was -- it was much more effective for the president when he had Hannity working everybody into a lather, and we couldn't read what he was actually talking about. Well, you know, here it is, OK? Now I can read it, and now, I can understand what it says.

Are there some troubling aspects? Yes. Does it undermine the whole Mueller probe? No.

That's not how the president sees it. He just tweeted -- can we put that up on the screen? Let's see what he's thinking about this. "-- memo totally vindicates "Trump" in probe. No Collusion, no Obstruction" -- yadda yadda yadda.

Mr. President, here's what I take away from the memo.

The memo says that, in the first of the four FISA orders that were sought and received, relative to Carter Page, the Court wasn't told that the underlying evidence gathering for the Steele dossier was paid for by the Ds.

The Court should've been told that. But that doesn't mean that the evidence was bad in and of itself, nor does it mean that the Court wouldn't've gone ahead and provided the court order for a FISA investigation and surveillance of Page to begin with. And that's what I think a lot of folks are missing in all of this.

Another one. What else is coming in during the course of the program?

"It's amazing how you mask that you're really a Trump supporter. Very clever and manipulative."

Truth B Told, let me tell you, truth be told -- this is the truth be told.

My opening commentary of this program which you may have missed is one in which I articulated my viewpoint that there's really not much there there. If I were here to carry the president's water, I'd be doing what they do on Fox, which would be to stoke your

[09:55:00]

passions without much evidence.

No, sorry -- I'm not here to carry the water of the president, nor to do him in. You know, my allegiance is only to you, the viewer, to tell you for better or worse how I see these things.

One more, if we've got time. I love how people are always trying to figure out -- you know what it is? One more thing, Catherine (ph), I have to say this. Take that off the screen for a second.

You are so conditioned -- you -- truth be told, you are so conditioned to believe that anybody that pops up on your screen has to be from the left, or has to be the right. That, when a guy like me comes along, and doesn't have it all figured out, but doesn't see the world ideologically, you don't know how to react to it.

Now I just ate up my time. See you next week. Thank you. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)