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DOJ and FBI to Allow Lawmakers to See Highly Classified Information; Top Officials brief House Lawmakers on Election Security; Interview with Representative Gregory Meeks; Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired May 22, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: But what does that mean and what type of information will be shared, and with whom, will Democrats be in the room? All of this may become at least a little more clear when the speaker of the House steps in front of cameras just moments from now on Capitol Hill.
Speaker Ryan has been a key player here. He has enabled, in some ways promoted the discussion of congressional oversight and demanding and seeing those documents. So I expect he will weigh in shortly.
In the meantime, let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins for the very latest from the White House -- Kaitlan.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Poppy, for right now, the White House seems to have brokered an agreement between top law enforcement officials and congressional leaders to see some information related to the Russia investigation. Now this comes of course after the president demanded on Twitter that the Department of Justice look into whether the FBI surveilled or infiltrated his campaign. An allegation he made with no corroboration.
And then after a meeting here at the White House yesterday that involved President Trump, Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the FBI director Christopher Wray and the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats. Now they had that meeting here at the White House. They were here for roughly an hour and afterwards the press Secretary Sarah Sanders announced that there was -- John Kelly was going to set up this meeting between the FBI or the law enforcement officials and these congressional leaders so they could see some information related to this.
Now she said that was going to happen immediately. The timing is still unclear on that meeting. And there is also not a lot of clarity surrounding what that meeting is going to look like. We don't know who's invited. We don't know if they're going to be able to get their hands on actual documents. It just says they're going to be provided with information. We don't what the venue for that meeting is going to be.
But what we are getting is the sense that both parties walked away feeling as if they have gotten the upper hand here. And the White House is certainly billing this as a success. Here's what Vice President Mike Pence said about it last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're very confident that as the inspector general has been doing their work looking at the conduct of the FBI during that period that by adding their focus to this that we'll get to the bottom of it because the American people have a right to know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: Now what is important to keep in mind here because that's a lot to unpack is that the root of all of this is a political fight over this Russia investigation. And the president now trying to undermine the investigators by saying that they need to be investigated. So it is important to keep that in mind, that is what the White House is putting a lot of emphasis on this morning while also having to straddle and deal with another problem, North Korea.
The president is meeting with the South Korean president here at the White House this afternoon. They're scheduled to meet for roughly two hours and, of course, what is on the table is that potentially historic summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, a meeting that is now having doubt cast on it because some of the actions from North Korea in recent days and aides inside this White House saying the chances for that meeting seem to be dwindling -- John and Poppy.
BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. Kaitlan, thanks so much.
HARLOW: Thank you.
BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin. Also with us CNN national security analyst, Nada Bakos.
And Jeffrey, I want to start with you because we just heard the vice president say, you know, the fact the inspector general is looking into this is good because it means we will get to the bottom of this and it will provide answers for the American people. So is there anything wrong with that construct from the vice president?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think, you know, we have to step back and recognize that it is absolutely unprecedented in the last several decades of American history for a president to be supervising day-by-day an investigation of any kind in the FBI. But especially one that is of him. I mean, he is brow-beating the Justice Department into investigating an investigation of him and interfering with an investigation of him.
Yes, it's true that an inspector general investigation is perhaps not the worst option, but I don't think -- I certainly don't believe that this is the end of the president's effort, of the House Republicans' efforts to interfere with the Mueller investigation. And that's what's really going on here.
HARLOW: And Nada, what hangs in the balance is a potential public outing of a confidential source. Called an informant or, you know, a spy by the president. A confidential source that the FBI has relied on for years that we know from our reporting is an American. How dangerous is that?
NADA BAKOS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's very dangerous. And it will have a ripple effect across the intelligence community and their ability to recruit sources. And when we talk about the terms that the president is using, spy versus an informant or a confidential source, there's a big difference there. So the spy is really a nomenclature that the CIA uses. It's typically applied to a person that is foreign, they're spying on their country, organization, for the United States.
And in this case we have the FBI using an informant or confidential source, which they use in a lot of their investigations.
[10:05:06] This is a person that is gathering information and giving it to the FBI. They're not charged with spying on someone. So at the same time, there is a lot of vetting processes that go -- that the FBI and the CIA go through to enable people to gather information.
So this person has protections around their identity, so that they don't have -- they don't come under some kind of repercussion against, you know, either another country and unfortunately in this case, which I think is totally unprecedented, coming under threat from their own country. I mean, outing this person's name is very dangerous as we saw with Christopher Steele.
BERMAN: You know, Jeffrey, people keep on saying that this is all to answer questions about wrongdoing. Are there actual questions about wrongdoing? Have you seen here any allegations that ring true that the FBI or investigators here behaved in any way that was inappropriate?
TOOBIN: No, I mean, that's what makes this especially preposterous is that there is no credible allegation that the FBI did anything wrong here. I mean, this is as far as I think anyone can tell, you know, a high profile but fairly straightforward investigation of the claim that Russia was colluding with the Trump campaign.
The investigation began in the spring of 2016, and it wasn't until the summer that this informant was brought into the case. So it's not like they decided to plant a spy inside the -- inside the investigation -- inside the Trump campaign because they wanted to find out stuff inside the Trump campaign. This was an orderly investigation that began with --
TOOBIN: With a suspicion of wrongdoing, and then the FBI, as the FBI does, asked someone to find out some information for them. So there is nothing untoward, there is nothing suspicious here, but it is part of the political attack of the Trump White House and the House Republicans against Mueller and the Department of Justice.
HARLOW: And this would have been -- experts are saying logical extension of the -- you know, following the FISA judge approving that surveillance, this would have followed that and have been a logical extension of a counterintelligence investigation.
Nada, Sam Clovis, one of the Trump campaign advisers who met with this confidential source talked about the meeting, pretty revealing, fascinating, but I wonder how significant you think it is. Listen to what he said to an Iowa radio station.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM CLOVIS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: The meeting was very high level. It was like two faculty members sitting down on the faculty lounge talking about research. And there was no indication, there are no inclination that this was anything other than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it. It was not anything other than him talking about the research that he had done on China and that was essentially what the discussion was about, and we already had a lot of China people involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: When you listen to that, does that sound like infiltration, Nada, embedding to you or how does that ring in your ears?
BAKOS: No, and in fact, you know, when the FBI is looking at it, an informant or confidential source, it is because of the position that they hold or, you know, by facility where they're sitting in relation to the investigation. They're naturally coming across information, they're not out seeking information and lurking around the corner, planting bugs in an office, they're in -- in the course of their day, they're coming across information that actually is helpful to the FBI when it comes to this type of investigation.
BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, Nada Bakos, thank so much for being with us. Appreciate it.
HARLOW: Thank you, both.
All right. Any minute House Speaker Paul Ryan is set to take questions from the press. This less than an hour after lawmakers were briefed on current threats to U.S. elections.
BERMAN: Our Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.
Manu, what are you expecting to hear?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right. Secretary Nielsen actually just came out, the DHS secretary, to discuss what they discussed behind closed doors, it was roughly only about 40 and 50 members of this entire House body who showed up to this briefing about election security, talking about things that they wanted to do, the federal and state level, concerns about Russia and other state actors may try to infiltrate the 2018 campaign, the way that Russia meddled in the 2016 elections, and she briefed about her -- the actions there. We also had a chance to talk to her about another issue, the 2017
conclusion from the intelligence community that said it was Putin that orchestrated a campaign to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Now when I asked the secretary specifically about whether or not she agrees with that intelligence community assessment, she seemed to push back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[10:10:03] RAJU: Secretary Nielsen, to that point, do you have any reason to doubt the January 2017 intelligence community assessment that said it was Vladimir Putin who tried to meddle in this election to help President Trump win?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I do not believe that I've seen that conclusion. What I do -- that the specific intent was to help President Trump win, I'm not aware of that. But I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.
I think what they're trying to do, in my opinion, and I defer to the intel community, is to disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what's happening. Right? It's an integrity issue of who is saying what and why, and how that may or may not affect an Americans' behavior in what they believe.
RAJU: The assessment did say that Putin tried to orchestrate a cyber campaign with the intention of helping Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please talk to the camera --
RAJU: Do you have any disagreement with that?
NIELSEN: I do believe that Russia did and will continue to try to manipulate Americans' perspective on a whole variety of issues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So sidestepping that issue at the end, not exactly saying that it was Vladimir Putin who did try to help Donald Trump win. That's a conclusion that has been reaffirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the Republicans have thrown some doubt on that specific finding, but there making some remarks, suggesting perhaps she's not in line with what the intelligence community said very clearly, why they did say that they were trying to sow discord, Russia was, on both sides. It was the intention of Putin to help Trump win. The secretary there seemed to sidestep that when asked there just moments ago, guys.
HARLOW: And Manu, before you go, the House Speaker Paul Ryan facing some pretty significant head winds, the farm bill failing. More and more Republicans in the House signing on to this -- basically a law that would force a vote on DACA on the House floor, something he doesn't want to see happen this way. And then he speaks to a group of Republican lawmakers just now and tells them they need to unite.
RAJU: Yes. And this is really the concern that the Republican leaders have going into the midterm elections. You see different strategies on both sides, conservatives and moderates, concerned about losing their seats, particularly in those districts that Hillary Clinton won.
Ryan trying to make the case that the party needs to be seen from the same song sheet, they need to unite, that's the message that she -- he delivered behind closed doors with his members, given what happened with the farm bill going down last week, and also this push by the moderates to force this vote on immigration, which conservatives in the House are pushing for a much more hard-line bill. They're concerned about these different messages, guys, and they're concerned on what it may mean come November -- John and Poppy.
BERMAN: All right. Manu, thanks very much.
Just I want to point out how remarkable it was, what the Secretary Nielsen just said there.
HARLOW: Just said. Yes.
BERMAN: Either she is saying that she hasn't seen the conclusion from the intelligence community --
HARLOW: Right. Which I think that was her words. They haven't seen it or what she should have. Right.
BERMAN: Which is crazy. She's the secretary of Homeland Security.
HARLOW: Right. Right.
BERMAN: You know, the intelligence community say that Russia meddled in the election with the purpose of helping Donald Trump, so either she hasn't seen that, which we should be concerned about, or she's saying she disagrees with it or has reached her own conclusion, again which is remarkable from a Cabinet secretary who deals, at least tangentially, with intelligence.
HARLOW: You're right. It deserves all of that emphasis.
HARLOW: And this is just coming in, Manu just getting that from her.
BERMAN: Very interesting.
All right. We'll talk more about that coming up. In the meantime, the president will meet with the leader of South Korea very shortly. This as White House aides are getting increasingly skeptical that the potentially historic summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, they suggest it might not happen at all.
HARLOW: Plus his message to this country, Senator John McCain making his voice heard as his memoir hits book shelves today. And our Dana Bash sat down with the man who wrote the book with McCain and is like his right arm. Incredibly close to the senator. You'll hear from him ahead. And yet another explosion, a new explosion at the summit of the
Kilauea volcano. Lava posing new imminent dangers, people on the big island, more of the stunning images and a live report ahead.
[10:18:05] BERMAN: All right. Later this morning, the president will host the South Korean leader, President Moon Jae-in at the White House. This happening as White House aides are getting more skeptical that the summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will even happen.
HARLOW: Joining us is Congressman Gregory Meeks, he is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Thank you for being here. And I want to get to North Korea in just a moment because this is a very important meeting at the White House. But what also just wrapped up and we just heard from the head of the DHS, Kirstjen Nielsen, about is this election security briefing, all members of Congress were invited to attend this briefing about the Russian meddling in the 2016 election and what can be done to prevent it in the midterms and in 2020. Did you attend the meeting?
REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I did not. I've got another meeting set up. I'll have my own private briefing. But was a last minute meeting and the Democratic caucus had a meeting going on and there were several other commitments that I had this morning. So I did not make the meeting this morning but I do intend to get caught up.
BERMAN: We understand only 50 or so members went.
BERMAN: I mean, given the focus and concerns about election security in general, what does it say to you that so few people, you know, and yourself included, you may have had other commitments, but so few people, so few members --
HARLOW: Didn't go.
BERMAN: -- chose to attend.
MEEKS: Well, I think that it was a meeting that was put together at the last second. It wasn't something that members had advance notice of, and I think that if you're questioning whether or not Russia or other outside governments got involved in our elections in the past, we know that is a fact. And I think that we know that we got to work collectively together to fix this problem.
HARLOW: Just to put a button on it, though, this was the director of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, pretty significant players, and it's not that it was about whether or not Russia interfered. We know that. It was about what can be done on all levels to prevent future election interference. [10:20:03] We hear a lot of lawmakers, your fellow Democrats going on
and on about this, the importance of securing our election, Republicans and Democrats agree. What does it say that so few were there?
MEEKS: It says that that bill came on -- the meeting came at the last second. We have two crucially very important bills that we will be voting on the floor today. And so there was intense conversation and debate about the banking bill that will be on the floor today and a criminal justice bill that will be on the floor to be voted on today. And so I know that I can -- will catch up and hopefully there will be another closed-door meeting, but I -- we have two very crucial bills that have to be voted on the floor today. So that was my focus.
BERMAN: Let's talk about North Korea. CNN is reporting that White House aides are becoming more skeptical that the meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un would even happen. You know, this has to do with the North Korean leader putting some conditions on the talks, maybe the last week.
What do you think needs to happen in your mind before president trump sits down with Kim Jong-un?
MEEKS: Well, I think that, and this has always been my fear. Number one, I know that President Moon has more at stake here than President Trump. And President Moon as I've said on your show before has been the one that's really been the one that tried to pull this together because it's in South Korea's interests to make sure that there is no fighting or there's no nuclear war and North Korea does not have a nuclear weapon.
So that being said, I think that what the president has to do is not just talk about having a show, a TV show, with President Un, but making sure that there is a true working, have the State Department intricately engaged so that you know what you want to act with the North Koreans are asking for also. So that we can have a substantive dialogue and conversation and not just a show.
HARLOW: All right. To be clear, I don't -- I haven't heard the president describe this summit as a television show. But the vice president spoke about it yesterday, and here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: It would be a great mistake for Kim Jong-un to think he could play Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Are you confident that the president won't get played, in the vice president's words, by Kim Jong-un?
MEEKS: No. No, I'm not. And the reason why I say it's a show because the president has these kinds of meetings where he's done in the White House before with members of Congress. And you say one thing in those kinds of meetings and you walk out and nothing is done. So I have concerns. So -- and being played, no, I am hopeful that the president doesn't get played because everyone wants, you know, North Korea not to have a weapon, but I've seen no evidence of a plan put together by this president to make sure that we are successful when he pulled out of, for example, the JCPOA, which was something where there was sanctioned and nations came together.
And now he wants to go and says he's going to do something else in North Korea, which I don't know what it is, I have not heard a plan. I am very skeptical that he is -- just wants the spectacle of saying that he met with him and other presidents have not. That's what my concern is.
BERMAN: Is he getting played now?
MEEKS: Well, I think that very well he is clearly if he has to pull out or whether he steps up, goes to the meeting, the key is the substance of what takes place in the meeting. I think that President Moon is the one that's trying to keep this thing together. President Moon is the one that first went to North Korea to talk to Kim Jong-un. President Moon is now trying to keep President Trump engaged to try to make sure that something happens.
So if anyone, you know, I kind of hope that as President Moon and the South Koreans will -- as well as the Japanese are involved because the only way that this is going to happen is with their help and their participation.
BERMAN: And we'll see President Moon at the White House very shortly.
Congressman Gregory Meeks from New York, thanks so much for being with us.
HARLOW: Thank you.
All right. Quick break. We'll be right back.
[10:28:37] BERMAN: House Speaker Paul Ryan taking questions on the meeting that congressional leaders will have with the Department of Justice on the Russia investigation.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Oversight of the executive branch is that we do get these document requests honored. Look, FISA abuse is a serious issue. We the people, the Congress, have given the executive branch a lot of power in this very important law and it is really important that we conduct the proper oversight of the executive branch to make sure that that power is not or has not or will not be abused.
That's ultimately at the big picture of what's going on here and so I think it's important that we just let the truth come out on all these things. Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, is it appropriate for some of your members to ask for the identity of an FBI informant to be revealed? Doesn't that put him at risk?
RYAN: First of all, that was a classified request. And I do believe, look, knowing this issue, the FISA requests are legitimate oversight requests. So it is wholly appropriate for the document requests that our committees of jurisdiction have made because it has been within the entire scope of the investigation from the get-go.
Frankly, I was a little surprised we didn't get this stuff earlier. So I do think it's appropriate in the context of the legitimate intelligence committee investigation that this information be provided to Congress. If it isn't then we have a huge gap in our investigation. Christine?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) your obligation to the discharge petition? What message do you take if more Republicans ran on today (INAUDIBLE)?