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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.N. Official Warns of Dire Conditions in Eastern Ghouta; Chinese President Reelected for Life. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2018 - 03:00   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): The U.S. president Donald Trump celebrates firing the former FBI deputy director.

Why dismiss someone who was about to retire anyway?

Is this political punishment?

I'll ask my guests.

Plus Donald Trump's personal lawyer is now getting involved in the legal action against porn star Stormy Daniels and they argue she owes $20 million.

And in Syria, civilians in Eastern Ghouta trying to make it out alive. The United Nations sound the alarm as humanitarian conditions keep getting worse.

Hi, I'm Cyril Vanier at CNN HQ here in Atlanta. Great to have you with us.

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VANIER: The U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions, just fired former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. But why?

McCabe was due to retire in less than two days. He was about to be history anyway. By firing him, the attorney general deprives him of part of his pension. Officially, the Department of Justice is dismissing him because he, quote, "lacked candor" with investigators who were reviewing the FBI's probe of The Clinton Foundation.

Well, McCabe denies that he did anything wrong. Here is CNN U.S. Justice reporter Laura Jarrett.

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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: And there is more from McCabe himself. He says he has been the target of an unrelenting assault to his reputation by the Trump administration.

He says, "The president's tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more than 20 years of service. And all along we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about us. No more."

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VANIER: 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 --

[03:05:00]

MATTHEWS: -- 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, 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 developments in the Stormy Daniels saga. Attorneys for President Trump and the company of his personal legal counsel have filed to move the porn actress' lawsuit from California state court to a federal court.

And they claim she could owe as much is $20 million for violating their nondisclosure agreement. Her lawsuit contends this NDA, the nondisclosure agreement, assures her silence over her alleged affair with the now U.S. president, well, she says that NDA is not valid.

The new filing is the first time attorneys for President Trump himself have joined in the legal action in this matter.

Daniels' attorney spoke earlier with our Anderson Cooper.

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MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The reason why they've engaged in this tactic is pretty clear and that is what they ultimately hope to do is to move this case to a private arbitration that's going to take place in an office building somewhere far out of view of the public, far out of view of any scrutiny, because they want to hide the facts from the American people.

And they don't want the American people to learn the truth about what happened with my client, what happened with the cover-up, what happened with their efforts to intimidate her into remaining silent.

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VANIER: All this comes after Daniels' attorney said the actress had been physically threatened to keep quiet. Our Sara Sidner has that.

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CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I say it's an allegation. You say it's a fact. SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The newest allegations from Stormy Daniels' attorney go beyond the suggestion of a mutual financial agreement between the porn star and the president's lawyer to pay for her silence, veering into allegations of physical threats and coercion to shut her up during a series of interviews.

AVENATTI: The fact is that my client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If she felt physically threatened, did she go to the police?

AVENATTI: Well, I didn't say she felt physically threatened, what I said was she was she physically threatened and she was.

TAPPER: Did she go to the police?

AVENATTI: I'm not going to comment on whether she went to the police or not.

SIDNER: The White House is not confirming or denying the allegations of physical threats.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously --

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SANDERS: -- we take the safety and security of any person seriously.

SIDNER: Saying only that it has no knowledge of Daniels' situation, but Avenatti is suggesting the White House should know to CNN's Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: Is there anything in the litany of accusations you would call them facts, that surround this case that happened while Donald Trump was president?

AVENATTI: Yes.

SIDNER: We asked but Avenatti would not provide any evidence to back up his assertions about physical threats. He has become ubiquitous on cable news over the last two weeks, playing cat and mouse with reporters. Dripping out new details of the story of the alleged sexual affair with Donald Trump in 2006 and the cover-up he says followed in 2016, just days before the presidential election.

What he has not done is tell her entire story. Pushing ahead to an interview with "60 Minutes" that will reportedly air March 25th.

AVENATTI: I think when people tune in to this interview, they're going to learn the details, the circumstances under which she signed the original agreement, as well as what happened thereafter relating to the threats and coercive tactics that were used to shut my client up.

SIDNER: We did reach out to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney, for comment. He did not respond. As for Mr. Avenatti, he says that six more women have come forward with what he says are similar stories to that of his client, referring to Stormy Daniels.

He says two of those women have nondisclosure agreements. He says, though, all of the women still need to be vetted and did not give further details about them -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.

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VANIER: So earlier I spoke with CNN legal analyst, Areva Martin, and there is an interesting point here. This is what she had to say about what is at stake for President Trump as he joins the legal action concerning Stormy Daniels.

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AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: 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.

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VANIER: Moscow is striking back against U.S. sanctions imposed for Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Rabikov (ph) says Russia will expand its so-called blacklist of Americans banned from Russia.

Meanwhile, a murder investigation has been opened into the death of former Aeroflot executive Nikolai Glushkov. He was found dead in his London home last Monday, killed by compression of the neck.

One week earlier, a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in Southern England. British officials accused the Russian president of ordering that attack. CNN's Nic Robertson has the latest.

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NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You have, on the one hand, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson and, on the other hand, the prime minister, Theresa May. Boris Johnson using the rough-and- tumble diplomacy tactics, pretty much chucking a diplomatic hand grenade toward the Kremlin, saying that President Putin was the one who is probably responsible for calling for this nerve agent attack in the U.K.

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.

ROBERTSON: Boris Johnson was there at the Battle of Britain bunker just outside of London, commemorating the Battle of Britain during World War II. At his side had been the foreign minister from Poland. The foreign minister gave his assurances to Boris Johnson that Poland stands fullsquare behind Britain in this case.

The British prime minister, aiming her diplomacy again, like the foreign secretary there, kind of build support from European partners. She called the Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, speaking to him about what happened, how the investigation was going, bringing him up to speed with the -- with the findings so far.

What she heard, according to Downing Street, her office, what she heard from the Italian prime minister was support, support for Britain's position and also support for the idea that Britain, other European countries, along with allies, the United States, need to work together --

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ROBERTSON: -- to build a strong position to, in essence, control or at least slow down Russia from this type of action in the future. That was -- that was the narrative emerging from Downing Street.

We also heard from Theresa May's office, again, another piece of diplomacy, if you like, saying that they've written to the OPCW on Wednesday, that's the organization for the prevention of chemical weapons, to offer that organization the opportunity to come to the U.K., to take their own sample of this nerve agent, to form their own analysis.

This is something, of course, that Russia has been saying. They've been saying that they haven't had an opportunity to examine the nerve agent themselves. Britain going by the regulations of the OPCW, this international body for stopping the proliferation of chemical weapons, and inviting them this organization, which has a Russian representative, inviting them to come to the U.K.

The expectation from Downing Street there that the OPCW would take up the government's offer to do this in fairly short order.

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VANIER: We have new information now about the deadly bridge collapse in Miami. Transportation officials in Florida say the lead engineer with the bridge's design firm left a voicemail for them on Tuesday with a warning. Take a listen to this.

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DENNEY PATE, FIGG BRIDGE ENGINEERS: I was calling to share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that's been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend.

So we've taken a look at it and, obviously, some repairs or whatever will have to be done. But from a safety perspective, we don't see that there is any issue there.

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VANIER: So that is the engineer there, calling to warn about cracks. The bridge, which was still under construction, collapsed two days later and that killed at least six people. Officials say they did not get the voicemail until Friday. The bridge design company says that its message was based on the information it had at the time.

The warning message was released at the same time the National Transportation Safety Board said construction crews were working to strengthen parts of the bridge at the time of the disaster. They say it is still too early to tell what caused this collapse.

Coming up, with all eyes on Eastern Ghouta, the U.N. warns of a separate humanitarian crisis in Syria. We'll have details ahead.

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VANIER: The U.N. is raising the alarm over a humanitarian crisis in Syria's Afrin region. Turkey launched a military operation against Kurdish forces there back in January. The U.N. says close to 50,000 people have been displaced in the past few days and there is now a severe water shortage.

There are also reports of airstrikes killing civilians and children. A similar crisis is playing out further to the south in Eastern Ghouta. That is near the capital, Damascus. A U.N. official says more than 12,000 people have fled in just --

[03:20:00]

VANIER: -- the past few days.

This area has been pounded by government assaults are there are reports that rebels are blocking residents from escaping. The U.N. special envoy for Syria has called parts of Eastern Ghouta "hell on Earth."

Here is more of what he told the Security Council on Friday.

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STAFFAN DE MISTURA, U.N. SPECIAL ENVOY FOR SYRIA: The humanitarian colleagues who have entered into this area spoke of having seen hunger, dire want, poverty, haggard faces and despair all around.

Even for experienced people like my own humanitarian colleagues, was an unsustainable situation, where people are literally at the tip of a collapse. And that is a few kilometers, 20-minute drive from Damascus.

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VANIER: Let's try and find out a little bit more detail, what is actually happening to the people who are stuck in Ghouta and those who are managing to flee. Joining me now from Beirut, Lebanon, is Samah Hadid. She is the Middle East Deputy Director for Campaigns at Amnesty International.

Samah, thank you so much for being with us. It is really hard to tell the story of these civilians because it is really hard to get access to this area. It is obviously very dangerous. Civilians have now been able to leave Ghouta and they are taking advantage of this.

Describe to us what is going on.

SAMAH HADID, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Well, civilians in Eastern Ghouta have faced unimaginable suffering, suffering for six years under siege and most recently they've been facing almost daily bombardment by Syrian government forces with the support of the Russian government.

The civilians that we've been speaking to on the ground have told us about their starvation, the desperate need for medication, water and food. And also that they have been facing daily bombardment that have -- airstrikes that have targeting civilians, killing, injuring them.

And these sorts of attacks could amount to war crimes. So it is absolutely critical that the Syrian government, with the support of the Russian government, must end unlawful attacks on civilians --

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VANIER: Can those who want to leave now leave?

Because it was not the case just a few days ago.

HADID: There are civilians fleeing and we're receiving reports of civilians being able to flee. But there are still civilians who fear leaving because of potential punishment by the government. They are scared that there might be revenge attacks against them if they were to flee.

We're also hearing reports that there are restrictions on them leaving as well. So it's really the obligation of the Syrian government to ensure that those fleeing are given safe passage and are not attacked even further once they head to government lines -- VANIER: And is that what's happening?

What information do we have on that, the people who are fleeing?

Because they find themselves, once they've left Ghouta, they find themselves in a government-held area.

HADID: That is correct. So in the same way that we saw with Aleppo, people fearing these revenge attacks are also getting a sense that civilians also have these fears and concerns. However, I think the U.N. and also the Red Crescent have been able to reach some of these civilians with aid.

But this hasn't been case for other areas of Eastern Ghouta that are still under siege and bombardment. And aid is just not getting through. So that is another critical issue here.

VANIER: So as Amnesty speaks to the civilians who managed to flee Ghouta and they tell you what it was like inside, what are they saying about how they are treated by the rebels inside Ghouta?

HADID: Well, we haven't really received those details in the same sort of way that we've been hearing about the lack of humanitarian aid coming through the daily bombardment. Of course there are abuses by the rebels as well.

But I think we also have to take into account this sheer scale of the attacks by the Syrian government with the support of the Russian government. Its importance for Eastern Ghouta, for Afrin, for all parts of Syria, that all parties that are committing war crimes or may commit war crimes should be held to account.

And you know, we're seeing this seven years into the war and the conflict. And yet no parties to the conflict have been held to account. So it's absolutely important that accountability is pursued here.

VANIER: And we know that the regime --

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VANIER: -- once it has set its sights on a particular area, that it wants to reconquer, will stop at nothing to do that. It has done so in many other areas of Syria during this civil war. All right, thank you very much for joining us here on the show and giving us your insights. Thanks.

HADID: Thank you.

VANIER: China's parliament, the National People's Congress, has unanimously reelected President Xi Jinping as expected. He could indefinitely now after China abolished limits on presidential terms.

The parliament is also expected to approve a massive restructuring of the Chinese government, also in Beijing the former anticorruption chief has been named as the new vice president. And he is expected to be influential in shaping trade policy with the United States.

And one last parting shot for the Northern Hemisphere's winter season, the mini-beast from the East -- we told you about that -- is set to return to Europe this weekend.

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VANIER: And thank you for watching. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment. Do stay with us.