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FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe Fired; Trump Attorneys Want to Move Porn Star's Suit; U.K. Opens Probe of Murdered Russian; U.S. Treasury Imposes Sanctions on Russia; First Bridge Collapse Victim Identified. Aired 12m-12:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2018 - 00:00   ET

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


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Thank you for joining us. I'm Cyril Vanier at CNN HQ here in Atlanta and we begin with breaking news again this hour. Another high-profile firing in Washington; this time it is former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired him less than two days shy of his official retirement on Sunday. The Department of Justice says he was let go after determining that he, quote, "lacked candor" with investigators reviewing the FBI's probe of The Clinton Foundation.

In an interview with CNN, McCabe denied any wrongdoing. He says he has been the target of an unrelenting assault to his reputation by the Trump administration. CNN U.S. Justice reporter Laura Jarrett joins us now with more from Washington.

Laura, first of all, tell us the latest, tell us what happened and also tell us how Mr. McCabe found out about his firing.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a stunning blow to McCabe today as he received the news of his immediate termination from Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

And we had known for quite some time that the decision was on Sessions' plate and it would be a tough one, given the political circumstances with the president. But we didn't know is how Sessions would explain it. And here is what he said in part.

He explained that his decision was based off of a review conducted by the inspector general's office here at the Justice Department as well as the Office of Professional Responsibility at the FBI.

And both of those reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor, including under oath on multiple occasions.

Now course McCabe is firing back against that, as you mentioned, defending himself, saying that he did nothing wrong. And he also released a statement tonight, saying, in part, that, "I am

being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played and the actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey," of course, that being the former FBI director that President Trump fired in May.

And McCabe goes on to day, "The OIG" -- meaning the inspector general's office -- "focused on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the administration, driven by the president himself, to remove me from my position and destroying me of my reputation."

So the political overlay here in Washington is important to keep in mind because President Trump has levied blistering attacks on McCabe, given his purported ties Hillary Clinton through his wife, who had a failed state senate bid and accepted donations from a Clinton ally.

Trump has used that repeatedly in tweets, on the campaign trail, but tonight McCabe is defending himself and speaking back -- Cyril.

VANIER: All right, Laura, thank you very much for outlining the latest. Let's get to our guests now.

Peter Matthews, he is a political analyst and professor of political science at Cypress College. Steve Moore is a CNN law enforcement contributor and retired supervisory special agent of the FBI.

So we will want your point of view as well.

They join us now both from Los Angeles.

Let us -- let us start with this basic fact for viewers who are maybe just getting into this story. Andrew McCabe was not in the office of the FBI. So this is not about removing somebody who was in the office you say they're not good for the FBI. He is already not there.

And by the end of the weekend, he was going to be fully retired and officially retired from the FBI.

So, Peter, what is the point of firing him?

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: The point is to really stick it to him in the eye because Trump has been out to get him and Sessions is an ally of Trump and they decided two days before he retires get him out so he wouldn't get the retirement fully.

This is a real problem because the president is a political figure. He should be staying out of this. And he has been attacking McCabe all along. While the rule of law was going through with the actual apparatus at the OIG's office, this should have been separated from the OIG's office and what the president was saying about McCabe. And that wasn't. That was not going on.

VANIER: Steve, let me ask you a question, your point of view. As a former member of the FBI, the FBI looked into this and it was FBI career officials who determined after that internal Justice Department review that McCabe should be dismissed.

So that, I guess that is their ground for saying this is not political.

What do you make of that?

STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Leaving all political issues aside, the reality is, in the FBI, there are two toxic things. There are a shortfall of candor during an investigation and getting involved in politics or talking to the press.

McCabe is alleged to have done both of those. I can tell you that I have done some OPR investigations --

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MOORE: -- at least a couple. And what I tell --

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VANIER: Those are the internal review investigations of which Mr. McCabe was the subject.

MOORE: Exactly. Their Office of Professional Responsibility. When you do that -- I can remember the first day in the FBI. They said, if you are going to cheat the FBI, hit us for $25 million not for 25 cents because we will fire you for either.

Anytime there is a shortfall of candor, which means not just giving wrong information but not fully explaining things that the investigator should know, you are gone. It is over. There is no question. Ask any of the 12,000 agents out there and they will know the term, shortfall of candor.

VANIER: So it is interesting what you are saying. You are saying forget the optics of this. Yes, he is fired just before his official retirement. Yes, given the context, it can appear to be political.

But you're saying in any circumstance, if anybody is not candid with an internal review, they're out.

MOORE: It is over. It is not even -- it is not even a question.

I would start my interviews with, "What I am investigating possibly might get you fired. But if you lie to me, I will fire you," and/or "You will be fired."

And so --

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VANIER: Do we know -- do we know -- are we sure that he was not candid?

Can we trust that assessment? MOORE: Well, it is the Office of Professional Responsibility. They're

the honor guard for the entire FBI. You would have to believe that the entire OPR is now corrupted and, really, where you stop?

It would be everybody in the FBI and, you know, that old thing, a paranoid person might be being followed, well, yes. Maybe there was -- I am not saying yes or no. But even if there was some type of plan to get rid of him, he still handed it to them on a silver platter if he did not provide all the information or misled the agents in any way, shape or form, he is fireable whether or not anybody believes it is political.

VANIER: OK but as against that, I want to show -- I want to read our viewers some of the tweets, which explain why there is an -- there are obvious questions about whether or not this was political.

Catherine (ph), let's put up the tweets from July 2017. These are tweets from the president, Mr. Trump.

"Why didn't attorney general Sessions replace acting FBI director Andrew McCabe? A Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars" -- $700,000 -- "for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives? Drain the swamp."

So we know that Donald Trump wanted Andrew McCabe out.

Peter, to you, are you in doubt as to whether this was political or whether this was really McCabe is out on a technicality?

MATTHEWS: I think it's a little bit of both but certainly there's politics involved here and McCabe's wife ran for state Senate. She had every right to do so. She raised the money. I have always been a critic of dollar democracy, of big money chasing candidates --

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MATTHEWS: -- but in this case, it was -- yes, but in this case it was legal and the fact is there's a lot of politics involved and because the president got too heavy-handed (INAUDIBLE) involved, that was the real problem in my view, when it comes to the American democracy and rule of law principles.

VANIER: Yes, we're really on the line on this one. We will need to keep looking at the context and the background of this.

Very much, Peter Matthews, Steve Moore, thank you very much, both of you, for joining the show. Thanks.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

VANIER: And we have to get to our second big story of the day, more developments in the Stormy Daniels saga. Attorneys for President Trump and the company of his personal legal counsel have filed to move the adult film actress' lawsuit from California state court to federal court, claiming that she could owe as much as $20 million for violating a hush agreement.

Her lawsuit that was filed earlier this month contends the nondisclosure agreement to assure her silence over her alleged affair with the now U.S. president is not valid. This is also notable because it is the first time that attorneys for President Trump himself have joined in a legal action in this matter.

Daniels' attorney spoke earlier with our Anderson Cooper.

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ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Why would the President of the United States join in an effort for a document -- for a nondisclosure agreement that he, himself, didn't sign, which his attorney apparently just did on his own that had nothing to do with the president, for an act that he said he didn't commit?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Well, I hate to repeat myself, but I'm going to in this instance. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive. Anderson, that's a very good question. It doesn't make any sense.

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AVENATTI: We also now have the threat, and it's set forth in the papers, the position if you will, that if President Trump is going to seek in excess of $20 million in damages against my client.

This is truly remarkable. I don't know that there's ever been an instance in American history where you had a sitting president carrying out a personal vendetta and seeking in excess of $20 million against a private U.S. citizen, who is merely trying to tell her version of the facts.

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VANIER: We need walk through a few of the legal aspects of this. Areva Martin --

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VANIER: -- is a CNN legal analyst. She is here to help us.

Areva, help us understand the significance of several aspects. First of all, what do you infer, what do you learn from who is making this filing today?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, Cyril, it finally confirms what we have known all along, which is that this lawsuit is really about is about Donald Trump. It's not about Michael Cohen, although he has come forward and said that he paid the $130,000 settlement to Stormy Daniels out of his personal funds.

He did that as the lawyer for Donald Trump, the client. And so by joining this lawsuit, he is acknowledging that he is, in fact, the client. He is the person who was trying to prevent Stormy Daniels from talking about the alleged affair that she says they had in 2006 and 2007.

So this is significant because, as we know, Trump and his administration have been denying any knowledge of the affair. Well, one, they denied that the affair happened but they've denied any recognition or knowledge about what Michael Cohen was doing with respect to the settlement.

VANIER: Did Mr. Trump's personal lawyers have to get involved?

Or did they just have their backs against the wall and they had no other option?

MARTIN: They were forced to. The lawsuit that was filed by Stormy Daniels' new attorney in the Los Angeles Superior Court basically forced them to do so. They had to answer that lawsuit and, rather than answer it, they chose to file a motion to remove the civil action from the state court in Los Angeles to a federal court.

And oftentimes, defendants will do that. They are trying to disrupt the plan of the plaintiff because the plaintiff picks the venue. So the defendant in this case is saying that there is diversity of jurisdiction.

Trump is in D.C.; Michael Cohen is in New York; Stormy Daniels is a resident, they're claiming, of Texas. And they're saying because of that, the federal court has jurisdiction over this matter and they would rather litigate this in federal court than a state court in Los Angeles.

VANIER: OK, help us with that. The state court versus the federal court versus at the end of the road, arbitration.

What does it mean?

Why does it matter?

MARTIN: So there's a sense that the federal court is more favorable. Some lawyers are just more familiar with the rules of procedure in federal court. They like the rules. Federal judges tend to be tougher. They tend to enforce the rules more strictly than Superior Court judges.

And this is all happening with individuals that do not live in Los Angeles, California. So there may be some sense that there would be some home, you know, some home field advantage if this case remains in state court.

So that is one of the reasons why lawyers typically will remove an action from state court to federal court.

Now the arbitration that you mentioned. We know that Michael Cohen had an arbitrator make a determination that Stormy Daniels was violating the nondisclosure agreement. And he issued a restraining order. Stormy Daniels' lawyer is saying that arbitration, the proceeding, the nondisclosure agreement, that they are all null and void, that they have no legal significance because Donald Trump did not sign the settlement agreement.

So it's complex but essentially we now know there is going to be a civil lawsuit, probably in federal court, that involves Donald Trump as a defendant and Stormy Daniels as the plaintiff.

VANIER: And just briefly, does that mean that things, information is -- about this alleged affair is going to be made public, that, for the moment, is not public?

MARTIN: It probably does. A couple of things are happening. One, we know Stormy Daniels has already given an interview to "60 Minutes." And according to reports that interview was sent to air March 25th, so it may become public even before the civil lawsuit grows any legs.

Assuming that interview does not go forward, in this civil lawsuit there is something called discovery. Stormy Daniels' lawyers may want to depose Donald Trump. They may send him written questions that he has to answer under oath.

So unless this case is dismissed very early on, we should expect to see the exchange of information and the disclosure of information, including what may be photographs, text messages and other evidence supporting her claim that there was an affair.

VANIER: All right, Areva, thank you very much for walking us through this. It is pretty clear this is not going away anytime soon.

And, by the way, just a reminder, the president's lawyers made a filing today, say Stormy Daniels is liable to pay $20 million, $1 million for each time they say she violated the nondisclosure agreement.

Coming up after the break, Britain directly blamed the Kremlin for the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter but Russia's top diplomat in the U.K. says maybe the attack never even happened. Stay with us.

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VANIER: A follow-up on our breaking news this hour that FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired just hours before his official retirement. You had to wonder, given the circumstances, whether the president would tweet about this.

He did as of seven minutes ago. Here it is.

"Andrew McCabe fired. A great day for the hard-working men and women of the FBI. A great day for democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choir boy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI." Andrew McCabe was due to officially retire by the end of this weekend,

less than two days to go. This is going to cost him a significant part of his pension. He says essentially, this is political and he has been targeted by the Trump administration for a long time now.

Let's move on. British authorities have opened a murder investigation into the death of a Russian exile living in London. Former Aeroflot executive Nikolai Glushkov was found dead in his home last Monday night. The cause of death was determined to be compression of the neck.

This came just one week after a former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned and critically wounded in Southern England. Police say they have no evidence linking the two crimes.

The Kremlin is furious after being accused of ordering those poisonings in Salisbury, England. Ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found slumped on a bench on March 4th, victims of a Russian-made nerve agent.

On Friday, Britain's foreign secretary leveled the most direct accusation yet at Russia's leader.

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BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Our quarrel is with Putin's Kremlin and with his decision. And we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War.

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VANIER: The Kremlin has denied any involvement. Russia's ambassador to the U.K. even questioned if the poisoning really happened.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This investigation that is being held here in the U.K. is absolutely un-transparent and a secret. Nobody has access. Everything the photos of the Skripal in the hospital.

Have you seen this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are saying that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, I'm just -- I didn't --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: you doubt? You doubt that he is -- ?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But did you see them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You doubt that he has (INAUDIBLE) --

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. No proofs. Where are the photos?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no -- you're seriously saying that there is no proof that Sergei Skripal is gravely ill in hospital?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me what is --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That sounds like a crazy conspiracy --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no. But what's the proof?

Could you tell me what's the proof?

I mean, just the statements of the government is not enough for us.

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VANIER: Let's ask Steve Hall what he thinks of all of this. He used to be chief of Russia operations for the CIA. He's a CNN national security analyst.

Steve, is there -- first of all, is there any reason to doubt the American, British, European accusations against Russia?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, taken altogether, it is really difficult to imagine a situation where you can really blame anybody but Russia. I mean, specifically if you look at the most recent Skripal attempted attack, essentially, using a nerve agent that is produced only in Russia, you know, again, difficult to imagine who else would be interested --

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HALL: -- in going after a former spy who has betrayed their former nation.

So with all of these -- all of these attacks, with all of these operations, the line does seem to go pretty directly back to the Kremlin.

VANIER: So to Vladimir Putin himself, like the British foreign secretary says?

HALL: Very little goes on in Russia, especially if it is a really important matter like this, without Vladimir Putin at least being aware of it. But in this particular case, my informed speculation is that, as a former KGB officer himself, a former intelligence officer, he would be really interested in the details, in the operational planning behind the Skripal attacks as well.

Also, as well as the other cyber types of things that we have been seeing recently.

VANIER: So the West has been saying for years, whether it's European politicians or American politicians, they have been saying, in essence, we have to send a strong message to Vladimir Putin.

They've been saying this time after time after time. And now we are seeing this again.

Is the West incapable of being tougher on Russia?

Or are they just unwilling to pay the price of an even worse relation with Russia if they were?

HALL: Cyril, I wish it were that easy. What is happening is Vladimir Putin is beating us at our own game. He runs an autocratic state, where there is no real rule of law and in the West, of course, we have all sorts of rules that -- we oftentimes impose them upon ourselves when we are thinking about how do we strike back. How do we make sure that Vladimir Putin realizes the seriousness of what he is doing?

Vladimir Putin I think here is primarily about two things. First, his own system, that he remains in power and that the system that he has put in there remains in power. That in some part depends on the oligarchs who are really the only people who can cause instability.

And then the other thing that is very important to Vladimir Putin is making Russia a great power, reinserting Russia into the world order, if you will. And it is those two things that the West has to look at, to strike at, to make sure that Putin knows the seriousness of what it is that he has been up to recently.

VANIER: Steve, tell me what you think of the sanctions that have been taken against Russia. Because for instance, the British sanctions, where they're expelling diplomats.

Do you think the Kremlin right now is thinking, well, we got away with what we did?

Or do you think they are really hurting from those sanctions?

HALL: No, I do not think they're hurting from the expulsion of those diplomats and from that. What I think to be relatively mild sanctions from the British. This is an example of sort of what I was referring to earlier about playing by Western rules.

There is a long-standing tradition of declaring people persona non grata, PNG, explain diplomats and what will happen is that, as we saw, the Brits expelled 23 of their officers, some of them intelligence officers.

The Russians almost certainly will turn around and reciprocate that, causing the British intelligence services to lose capabilities in Moscow for collecting against, arguably, the most important threat right now, which is -- which is Russia.

So, no, Vladimir Putin got away with one there and I think he would be happy to pay that price for what he accomplished.

VANIER: As a spy, how good do you feel Russian intelligence and Russian spying and hacking abilities are right now?

Because they keep making headlines and it has been the case for, what, at least two years now, showing that they have ability to reach deep into Western countries.

HALL: Sure, I -- you know, in the 30 years that I spent in CIA, I do not think I found ever a more capable enemy, a more capable adversary, that the Russian intelligence services, whether it's the internal service, the FSB; the external service, the SVR, which is probably the ones responsible for the attacks on Skripal.

And then there is the military intelligence service, the GOE. They are incredibly well-funded because Putin funds them basically himself however he wants and they are just very, very good at what they do.

So it is literally no surprise that they have had the successes that they have.

VANIER: Steve Hall, CNN national security analyst, thank you very much for joining us here on the show. Thanks.

HALL: My pleasure.

It is just after midnight in Miami and emergency workers are still working to recover victims of the bridge disaster. Coming up, the chilling warning that Florida transportation officials heard too late. Stay with us.

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VANIER: Under fire and desperate for aid, an exodus of people is still streaming out of Syria's Eastern Ghouta. A U.N. official says more than 12,000 have fled in just the past few days.

A brutal offensive has pounded the area for weeks. We have been telling you about it. And pro-government troops are gaining ground. Their report that rebels are blocking residents from escaping, both sides of been accused of using human shields

The U.N. special envoy for Syria has described parts of Eastern Ghouta as hell on Earth.

As expected, China's parliament, the National People's Congress, has unanimously reelected President Xi Jinping for his second term. He could rule indefinitely now after the legislature abolished limits on presidential terms.

The parliament is also expected to approve a massive restructuring of the Chinese government that includes giving more powers to an anticorruption agency, which activists fear could undermine human rights in China.

Plus we have new information about the deadly bridge collapse in Miami. We're going to show you live pictures now. State transportation officials say the lead engineer for the bridge's design firm left a voicemail just two days before the collapse.

In his voicemail, he warned that there are cracks in part of the structure but the firm did not believe that they posed a safety issue. The company said its evaluation was based on the information it had at the time.

At least six people died in the disaster, including 18-year-old Alexa Durand (ph). The university student is the first victim to be identified. Recovery workers are still digging through the rubble, trying to find more victims.

That does it for us this hour. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will be back in the headlines in just a moment.

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VANIER: Welcome back. A lot of news this hour. Let's go through the headlines.

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