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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; Chinese President Reelected for Life; U.S. Treasury Imposes Sanctions on Russia; First Bridge Collapse Victim Identified. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2018 - 02:00   ET

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


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CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's another Friday night firing. FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe is out just before his retirement. President Trump is applauding.

So was it a political move? I'll ask my guests.

The president's personal lawyer says Stormy Daniels owes $20 million for talking about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. It marks their getting involved the first time.

Plus Russia furious after Britain's foreign minister blames Vladimir Putin himself for the attack on a former Russian smartphone in the U.K.

Hi, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier in Atlanta. Great to have you with us.

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VANIER: U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions just fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe -- and the timing is everything here. McCabe was due to retire in less than two days. By firing him, the attorney general deprives him of parts of his pension. The Department of Justice officially dismissed him because they say he had lacked candor with investigators -- their words.

Investigators who were reviewing the FBI's probe of The Clinton Foundation. McCabe denies any wrongdoing. CNN U.S. justice reporter Laura Jarrett has more from Washington.

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LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: For over a year, President Trump has used Andy McCabe as a political punching bag but McCabe is now firing back.

In an interview with CNN and a blistering public statement, McCabe saying in part, "I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey."

And just two hours after McCabe's firing late on Friday, a presidential tweet arrived with Trump calling it a great day for the hard-working men and women of the FBI, a great day for democracy.

Trump went on to say, "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 at the FBI."

But the backstory underlying McCabe's termination here is a bit more complicated. CNN had reported earlier this week that McCabe was the subject of a blistering internal review conducted by the Justice Department and the FBI about accusations that he misled investigators about his role in approving other FBI officials to talk to the press about an investigation back in 2016 into The Clinton Foundation.

Now McCabe says he'd never misled investigators and he did nothing wrong. But attorney general Jeff Sessions confirmed at least in part those internal reviews late on Friday saying those reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor, including under oath on multiple occasions.

As for McCabe, the loss at the chance of early retirement is perhaps the most serious blow. It's because he was fired on Friday when he was 49, he did not make it to 50 and that means he will lose out on at least a significant portion of his pension -- Laura Jarrett, CNN, Washington.

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VANIER: So earlier I spoke about this with political analyst, Peter Matthews, and retired FBI special agent Steve Moore.

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VANIER: 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.

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MOORE: 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, 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: Also today more developments in the Stormy Daniels saga. Attorneys for President Trump and the company of his personal legal counsel claim she owes $20 million for violating their nondisclosure agreement.

That's the hush agreement in which Daniels agreed to stay quiet about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump, the very agreement she is trying to get invalidated by the courts so that she can go public with her story.

Several things to pay attention to here. One, it is the first time attorneys for Mr. Trump himself have got involved in this legal action and, two, they have filed to move her lawsuit from California state court to federal court.

We will see why that matters in just a moment.

First, though, here is Daniels' attorney. He spoke earlier with CNN's 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.

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 --

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AVENATTI: -- 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 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.

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VANIER: And coming up after the break, Britain directly blames the Kremlin for poisoning an ex-spy and his daughter. But Russia's ambassador to the U.K. says may that never even happened.

Plus Chinese president Xi Jinping begins his second and possibly unlimited term in office. Stay with us.

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VANIER: And welcome back.

British authorities have now opened a murder investigation into the death of a Russian exile living in London. This comes just a week after a former Russian spy was poisoned in Southern England.

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. Police say they have no evidence linking the two crimes.

The Kremlin is furious after it was 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 did not pull his punches. He 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 been very clear. They've denied any involvement. In fact, Russia's ambassador to the U.K. even questioned if the poisoning actually 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 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 --

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HALL: -- 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: To the Middle East. The White House once again threatening to leave the Iran nuclear agreements and the White House pressuring European allies for changes to that deal.

The countries that signed the agreement met in Austria on Friday. President Donald Trump has said that he potentially wants to break the deal. He has told reporters his decision to replace secretary of state Rex Tillerson was based on disagreements over this very subject.

European diplomats say they share U.S. concerns on things like Iran's missiles. However, they do not want to rewrite the nuclear deal.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has been officially reelected as head of state. This comes as no surprise since the Chinese parliament had already voted to abolish presidential term limits, meaning he can now potentially rule indefinitely.

And Mr. Xi also now has a powerful ally, as his new vice president. CNN's Matt Rivers reports from Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

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MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Xi Jinping has officially started his second term as China's president, with the country's rubber stamp parliament electing him president again Saturday morning, just to my right at the Great Hall of the People here in Beijing.

His second five-year term had always been all but guaranteed but all signs indicate that this won't be his final term as president. That is because, just under a week ago, the parliament approved changes to the country's constitution, which eliminated the two-term limits for the presidency. So that allows Xi Jinping to stay in office indefinitely if he so

chooses. Reports in state media say that a steady hand is needed during a challenging global period and that, by removing restraints on the presidency, the office will now be in line with the unlimited terms of Xi's two more powerful position, general secretary of the ruling Communist Party and head of the military commission.

Critics, though, will tell you that those reasons are just excuses to create a new dictator here in China, going back to the kind of strongman reign that proved to be so disastrous for this country under Chairman Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China.

Mao's successors pushed for term limits, trying to institutionalize the peaceful transition of power so as to avoid going back to the days of one-man rule. Xi seems to have turned the dial back, though, becoming the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao himself.

Another interesting development is that Wang Qishan, the president's long-time right-hand man, the former leader of Xi's anti-corruption drive and once a key figure in China's diplomacy with the United States, he has been appointed as vice president.

Since Wang retired from his party leadership post last year, many analysts think this unusual move will turn the ceremonial vice presidency into a powerful position, paving the way for the two allies to join hands again and rule this country for years to come.

Make no mistake, though; today is all about Xi Jinping. He begins his second five-year term with more power than ever. Not in decades has one man had more say over the lives and fortunes of nearly 1.4 billion Chinese citizens -- Matt Rivers, CNN, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VANIER: In Miami now, investigators are trying to determine why a bridge collapsed, killing six people. We're learning there was a warning but transportation officials heard it too late.

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VANIER: Stay with us.

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VANIER: We're finding out more about the deadly bridge collapse in Miami. State transportation officials say the lead engineer for the bridge's design firm left a voicemail just two days before the collapse.

He was warning about cracks in a part of the structure. His firm did not believe that they posed a safety issue but he did say that they would have to be repaired. The company says that evaluation was based on the information they had at the time.

At least six people died in this 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.

And also this terrifying ride for skiers at a resort in Georgia. At least 10 people were injured before they even got to the top of the slope. Look at this.

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VANIER (voice-over): So what's happening is this ski lift went out of control, running at high speed in reverse, throwing people out of their chairs into the snow. The cause of that accident still under investigation, unknown at the moment.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I will be back with the headlines in just a moment. So stick around.