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FBI Agent Peter Strzok Testifies on Capitol Hill; Trump Arrives in UK After Tense NATO Summit; North Koreans No Show at Meeting with U.S. Officials; Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired July 12, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:14] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. And we do begin this hour with breaking news. You're looking at live pictures out of Capitol Hill. That is Peter Strzok, the embattled FBI agent, who has just taken a seat here for what will likely be a contentious hearing in front of the Judiciary and House Oversight Committees.
He is the one who sent those anti-Trump text messages during the campaign, and we are learning for the first time what he will say today. He will say that his criticism of the president was not limited solely to the president, but also to his opponents, like Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. He will also go on to talk about the fact that his own personal views politically never impacted the investigation.
Now it's important to note, his attorney has just issued a letter that says that his client may actually not be able to answer a lot of the questions posed to him in public by these lawmakers today, especially on the Russia probe. He does claim that he tried to meet with the FBI and lawmakers together with those attorneys to decide what topics would be off limits. But according to Strzok's attorney, that meeting never happened.
Let's go live to Manu Raju. He is on Capitol Hill live for us.
So, before we get into that and more, just outline for me what we have learned will be part of Peter Strzok's opening statement today.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is going to defend his role in the Clinton investigation, as well as the beginning part of the Russia investigation and the Mueller investigation after he was removed from that Mueller investigation once these text messages did come to light. But he's going to say that he did everything by the book when it came to the investigation, when it came to decisions not to prosecute Hillary Clinton.
His own personal views had no impact whatsoever ultimately on his decisions as part of -- when he worked on these investigations. Now according to a couple of excerpts that I'll read to you now, he says having worked in national security for two decades and having served in the U.S. Army, those opinions were expressed out of deep patriotism and an unyielding belief in our great American democracy.
He also says, "At times my criticism was blunt, but despite how it's been characterized, it was not limited to one person or one party. I criticized various countries and politicians, including Secretary Clinton, Senator Sanders, then candidate Trump and others."
Now he says something similar in a private testimony before these same two House committees last month. Something that stretched nearly a dozen hours on one single day. He made the same case. But afterwards, Republicans were not satisfied.
Republicans on these two committees in particular have seized on all these text messages that he sent to Lisa Page, an FBI attorney, about the -- to make the case that the Mueller probe is infected with bias and make the case that the FBI was infected with bias, something that the inspector general did not find as part of its investigation, even if it was raising concerns about these text messages.
The inspector general said those ultimate decisions in the Clinton investigation were not ultimately impacted by personal bias and people like Peter Strzok. But nevertheless, expect all of those text messages to come out, to be discussed, in this very, very contentious hearing. Expect one of the more aggressive and partisan hearings that you're going to see on Capitol Hill for some time that is kicking off in just moments here -- Poppy.
HARLOW: Right. Well, maybe expect fewer answers because that's what his, you know, attorneys are saying in this letter this morning. There is a lot he couldn't answer behind closed doors and maybe even less that they feel he can answer here in public.
Manu, before you go, Lisa Page, the woman and his mistress whom he traded these text messages with over a series of months during the election, she was being threatened to be held in contempt by Chairman Goodlatte. And now it turns out she will be on the Hill tomorrow, is that right?
RAJU: That's right. She was supposed to come yesterday under a subpoena by the Republicans on this committee. She defied that subpoena because of concerns she had not received enough documents ahead of that private interview. But after she'd been invited to appear alongside Peter Strzok today, she decided instead to come tomorrow for a private closed-door deposition, probably also will be heated. And that she could also be in public soon thereafter.
So this is not going away any time soon and probably to the delight of President Trump, who's been seizing on these two text messages to try to make the case against the Mueller investigation -- Poppy.
HARLOW: All right, Manu Raju on the Hill for us, all hour, with all of this. Thank you very much.
Again we will bring this testimony when it begins.
But also, a major story this morning, and that is the president's trip overseas as he wrapped up the NATO summit. His long-delayed and hotly contested visit to the UK is now about one hour old. He and the first lady took a helicopter to the compound of the U.S.. ambassador after a short flight from Brussels and the NATO summit where the president claims he bent the will of our allies.
[10:05:06] In an unscheduled news conference after two days of public pressure and private meetings, the president announced that everyone, he says, agreed to, quote, "substantially up their military spending." In fact, NATO secretary-general, the president of France, the chancellor of Germany, the prime minister of Canada, they this morning are all saying otherwise. Overall, the president called the summit fantastic. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can ask anybody at that meeting. They're really liking what happened over the last two days. There's a great, great spirit leaving that room.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: So this is a working visit now that he is in the UK. It will begin in earnest in just a few hours. Our Jeff Zeleny is in London with more. Also with us, again, our diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson is in Brussels.
And Nic, let me begin with you. Increasingly here, minute by minute, we are getting more responses, the latest one from Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada, that really counter the claim the president made this morning on, you know, whether he bent the will of our allies to really up their defense spending.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Absolutely. We heard it from Emmanuel Macron, the French president, as well, questioning whether or not there was a need to increase defense spending. He said, look, if we need to increase defense spending, it's because there is an increased security threat. We don't see that, we'll analyze it. But we've heard as well, you know, from Jens Stoltenberg.
But I think, you know, the president tried to frame this as a win for him, that he has been able to make, in his words, we're now safer than we were two days ago. That he's -- because of his leadership and since his last visit to NATO a year ago, there's been a $33 billion increase in defense spending amongst the allies. This is how President Trump framed it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The people have stepped up today like they have never stepped up before. And remember the word. $33 billion more they're paying. What they're doing is spending at a much faster clip. They're going up to the 2 percent level.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: But what we're actually learning here is that there is no commitment to spend at a faster clip. That what was agreed by NATO leaders back in the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, that the 2 percent increase of GDP to be spent on defense spending would be achieved 10 years later, in 2024. That was the text that was put out by NATO yesterday. That's the text that leaders are referring us back to.
Jens Stoltenberg didn't want to sort of answer that specifically, but this is the way that he is framing how things have improved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL: So we have a commitment to spend 2 percent. The importance now -- the important thing now is that we need to invest more to get more money. And the good thing is that since -- very much because of the very clear message from President Trump on this meeting, I think that allies understand that there is a need to do that. There is an urgency, there is a sense of urgency when it comes to delivering that commitment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTSON: So, of course, Jens Stoltenberg is really in charge of sort of corralling all 29 nations here and bringing unity and bringing harmony, and I think what we're seeing here today is that essentially President Trump has been given by Jens Stoltenberg and the other leaders, in the way that they phrase their responses, is actually giving President Trump the diplomatic win here.
HARLOW: Thank you very much, Nic, for being there and for that.
And now let's jump on not too far away, to London. We find our Jeff Zeleny there. Look, it was fascinating to watch this unscheduled press conference this morning. He took a lot of questions, answered some, dodged on a few others. But when you look overall at the president now in London, Theresa May needs things from the United States, and they do have some common goals. But no one has the illusion that this relationship between the two leaders is akin to, say, Churchill and FDR. What's this going to be like?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. That relationship certainly not akin to that. The reality here is, President Trump, as Nic was saying, did declare victory and move on. But he could have a much more contentious visit here in London.
The White House is going to great lengths to protect the president, if you will, from what's expected to be protesters throughout Central London for the next several days. He is at Winfield House right now. That's the ambassador's residency, he flew there. And this is essentially a fortified house, fortified by steel and other protected barriers. So they really are concerned about protests and they're trying to keep the president from seeing them, and from protesters seeing the president.
But on the diplomatic front, the president was asked at that news conference this morning in Brussels about those protests. And he said, I think they like me just fine in the UK. And then he went on to talk about immigration and how his immigration stance is something that Europe and the UK needs to follow. But that, of course, is one of the reasons he's being protested here in the first place, because of his view on immigration. [10:10:04] But also Brexit. He is coming into his first visit to the
UK, which, of course, has been delayed and delayed and delayed. He is coming into a governmental hot seat and a moment of crisis for the prime minister. A couple secretaries of hers have already resigned this week, all over Brexit. But this is what President Trump had to say this morning about his view of Brexit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The people voted to break it up so I would imagine that's what they'll do. But maybe they'll take it a little bit of a different route so I don't know if that's what they voted for. I just want the people to be happy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So he also went on to say that it's a pretty hot spot here in Britain, not talking about his arrival, but talking about the state of the government. But the president is going to be going to Blenheim Palace later on, of course that is the birthplace of Winston Churchill, as you mentioned, Poppy. He'll be doing a formal dinner and greeting there, of course, meeting with the Queen tomorrow. Only spending one night here, then going off to Scotland to his own residence, his own golf course. But an interesting 24 to 36 hours ahead here in London -- Poppy.
HARLOW: A little golfing to unwind before the sit-down with Vladimir Putin on Monday.
Jeff Zeleny, thank you.
Nic, stay with me. Let's also bring in Read Admiral John Kirby. Let's begin on Russia and the way, Admiral, that the president addressed the question this morning in the press conference about whether he views Vladimir Putin and Russia as an enemy. Here's what the president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He's representing Russia. I'm representing the United States. So in a sense, we're competitors. Not a question of friend or enemies. He's not my enemy. And hopefully someday maybe he'll be a friend. It could happen. But I don't -- I just don't know him very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Fact-checking the president on that one for a moment, Admiral. I mean, lest we forget that one week ago the Republicans on the Senate Intel Committee came out and reaffirmed what our intelligence community found, and that is that they assessed with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in the 2016 election, aimed at the U.S. and the goals were to undermine the faith of the U.S. process, denigrate Hillary Clinton and help President Trump. REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. And
also recommend that the president read his own National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy put up by Secretary Mattis just earlier this year. Both documents not only call Russia a strategic competitor, they say quite clearly that Vladimir Putin and Russia are undermining the international system and have adversarial designs towards the West in general.
In fact, they both call them revisionist -- Russia a revisionist power. In other words, trying to rewrite history to its own accord. I mean, this is a country that still is violating territory of Ukraine, has still illegally annexed Crimea. The president hasn't pushed back on that. And they are propping up Bashar al-Assad in what has become a butchery of a civil war there for the last seven, eight years. So I think clearly he's underplaying the very maligned role that Russia continues to play itself on the world stage.
HARLOW: Let me jump in here. And Nic, I'll get to you in a moment. I just want Admiral Kirby to address this breaking news that just crossed. This is on North Korea. OK. I'm just reading this as I'm bringing it to you. We just learned that North Korean officials apparently did not show up to a planned meeting with U.S. officials at the DMZ, at the Demilitarized Zone, today. They were expected to be there to continues these discussions after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to North Korea, again, and have what he continues to claim was a very productive meeting. We'll pull up that Pompeo sound and play it for you in a minute.
But, Admiral Kirby, just your reaction that apparently the entire North Korean delegation did not show up today.
KIRBY: Yes. I think this points exactly to -- whatever the reason is, and I don't know what it is, just hearing it like you are, Poppy. But it does underscore the difficulty of negotiating with North Korea towards the end of denuclearization. This is going to be hard and it's going to be hard because we do not share the same goals strategically as Kim Jong-un does. This is very much out of Kim's father and grandfather's playbook. Stall, obfuscate, delay, lie, try to conceal what you're doing. So -- I'll be very interested to know what their explanation is, if there is one. But it does point to how difficult this is going to be for Mike Pompeo.
HARLOW: Apparently, and I'm reading more of this as we're getting it, Admiral, there was no call or explanation from North Korean officials as to why they skipped the meeting.
I mean, Look, this -- look, President Trump cancelled the summit, right, two weeks before it happened and then it happened. Is this a power play? Do you -- I mean -- and this comes, by the way, after the "Washington Post" reporting about a week and a half ago that the North Koreans were basically trying to trick the U.S. here.
[10:15:01] KIRBY: Yes. It could very well be, Poppy. Remember, the very stern reaction that the North Koreans had after Pompeo's visit just a few days ago.
KIRBY: You know, calling --
KIRBY: Our tactics gangster-like, right? So this could very well be an act of retribution for that, a way of telegraphing to the United States, hey, we're serious. We don't really care for the tone that you came into this meeting and we're not going to follow through on this next generation. And they know how important the return of the remains of our POWs and missing from the Korean War are to us. They know what a visceral, emotional thing that is for the United States. So this definitely is a stick in the eye.
HARLOW: Nic Robertson, to you, Secretary of State Pompeo I guess leaving the NATO summit there in Brussels was asked by reporters about this snub that just happened, you know, within the last few hours apparently, and that he ignored a question to it.
ROBERTSON: You know, look, when you try to analyze what North Korea is doing here, Admiral Kirby absolutely knows this way better than I do. Absolutely on the ball here. Look, what the North Koreans clearly are trying to do from the outset is divide and conquer the U.S. negotiating team. They have sort of marginalized Secretary of State Pompeo from meeting Kim Jong-un in North Korea when he went on this visit.
It didn't happen. It had happened twice on previous visits. You've got to ask yourself why it didn't happen. He met with his interlocutor Kim Yong Chol, who he had met with before, the former spy chief.
ROBERTSON: The fact that their delegation hasn't shown up to meet this lower level U.S. delegation I think is exactly that. It's an indication of how difficult and dragged out this whole process will be. And what the North Koreans will do will be to set up a very slow process towards a negotiation, where every tiny little step -- we know that over a week ago, those caskets were sent to North Korea from the U.S. military base in South Korea to receive the remains of those fallen heroes during the Korean War, to bring their remains back.
The North Koreans are setting this up right now to just get that, that basic step that originally appeared from what President Trump has said all along to be agreed and set in stone. That what President Trump even phrased it as it has happened.
ROBERTSON: It is happening. This is the kind of language he used. North Koreans will set this up so that every tiny step like that is a huge achievement. And then you're so grateful you get that, but what you don't -- what you lose sight of is the fact that you were supposed to be given that. But you have to fight for it every step of the way.
HARLOW: Yes, right.
ROBERTSON: So it's his lack of good faith that at some point President Trump will have to square up to, and he hasn't so far.
HARLOW: And, again, the words out of Secretary of State Pompeo's mouth just a few hours ago, quote, "They," meaning North Korea, "They intend to denuclearize. They are going to accomplish it now. And the task is to get it implemented." And then they don't show up.
Thank you both, Nic Robertson, Admiral John Kirby. Appreciate it very much.
Still to come for us, we head back to Washington. A contentious hearing on Capitol Hill is just getting under way with the FBI agent, Peter Strzok, who sent those anti-Trump text messages during the campaign. We'll take you live there. Stay with me.
[10:22:17] HARLOW: All right. You're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill. That is Peter Strzok, the FBI agent, who is speaking publicly for the first time in just moments about the anti-Trump text messages he sent while he was one of the leads on the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe and on Mueller's team on the Russia probe, until he was released from those duties.
With me now, as we preview this, CNN senior political reporter, Nia- Malika Henderson, our justice reporter Laura Jarrett, our law enforcement analyst and former FBI supervisory special agent, Josh Campbell, and our legal and national security analyst and formerly with the FBI as well, Asha Rangappa.
Nice to have you all here. We know a little bit about what we're going to hear from Peter Strzok this morning. He will say in his opening remarks that he didn't just criticize President Trump. That he also criticized Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, in these text messages with his lover. He was having an extra marital affair with Lisa Page. He will also say that in his 26 years of defending the country, his personal opinions didn't impact the investigation. And he will in what seems to be a direct message to President Trump, say, quote, "the investigation is not politically motivated. It is not a witch hunt. It is not a hoax."
Josh, since you worked in the FBI as a special agent, what's your read on how this is all going to play out?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I think we have two competing dynamics at play here. The first is an FBI agent who appears to have exercised incredibly terrible judgment. There is no question about that, as you read through these text messages, that this is not the type of behavior that we would expect from law enforcement officers. That's on one hand.
CAMPBELL: He'll have to answer for that. On the other hand, you have a Congress, a congressional committee, that is conducting an investigation the results of which they've already drawn. They've already been out there besmirching his reputation before he's even had the chance to really publicly address some of these issues. And somewhere in the middle is the American people who are just trying to get answers and, you know, trying to decide what is going on here, and do we have confidence in the way our law enforcement officers are conducting themselves.
I don't have high confidence going into this in this very highly polarized environment that we're going to see a fair and impartial inquisition.
HARLOW: Laura Jarrett, remind us because you've read all, what is it, 534 pages of that IG report? Something like that. Remind us what the IG found about Peter Strzok.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That seems like months ago now. But it wasn't that long ago that the inspector general's office essentially found that the prosecutors that were actually handling the Clinton e-mail probe did not exhibit political bias in any of the specific decisions that Inspector General Horowitz reviewed. But what he couldn't determine was whether Strzok's actions were free from bias in a particular time period back in October of 2016. And the reason why is because at least in the inspector general's view, is that Strzok prioritized the Russia investigation over the Clinton e-mail probe when they found some additional e-mails on former congressman Anthony Weiner's laptop.
HARLOW: Right. Right.
[10:25:11] JARRETT: But it's interesting. In Strzok's testimony here, he takes on this idea of bias really hard, Poppy. And what he basically says is, the best evidence of the fact that I wasn't actually biased and didn't actually affect my work is that I was one of the handful of small group of people that actually knew about the Russia investigation way before any of us did, and I did nothing to disclose it.
HARLOW: Right. That he didn't make it public, as James Comey made the reopening of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe public just days before the election.
Nia-Malika, to you, on that point. That will be his argument and that is what he will hit time and time again. However, we now have this letter from his attorneys just out this morning that essentially says, our client may not be able to answer a lot of your questions.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that's going to be the most interesting thing. This dynamic here. Who is he as a person? We, of course, know about these text messages. We know the kind of image of him that Republicans are trying to paint. We know that Democrats are on the one hand criticizing him for those text messages, but also saying that it didn't impact his work. So it will be interesting to see how he presents himself. How does he handle what we know are going to be very contentious questions from these lawmakers. We saw this from with -- with the Rod Rosenstein hearings a couple of
weeks ago and so we know some of those same folks are going to really try to hit some partisan points. One of the things we know also in that 11-hour hearing, they wanted to talk about his affair with Lisa Page.
HENDERSON: How does he handle that? I mean, this is a public thing that, you know --
HENDERSON: You know, that I'm sure embarrassing for him and painful for his family. How does he handle that questioning.
HENDERSON: So it will be really interesting. I mean, this is going to be political theatre at its best or worst, depending on your point of view.
HARLOW: And it seems like -- well, we know from his attorney's letter, there were a lot of what they call sideline discussions which in a courtroom would be like approach the bench and the attorneys talk privately about what you can discuss or not. It sounds like his attorneys are saying there will be some moments here where he's asked questions that his attorney behind him advises him that he can't answer, and then a whole debate about that. So that could take up a lot of this.
Asha, to you. Let's remind people about some of these text messages that are in question. In August of 2016 before the election, Page writes -- Lisa Page, who will be on the Hill tomorrow, by the way, "Trump is not ever going to become president, right?" And then Strzok writes back, "No, no, he's not. We'll stop it." There's also the exchange in -- about a conversation in Andy McCabe's office, the former deputy director of the FBI, saying there is no way he gets elected, but I'm afraid we can't take that risk, Strzok writes. It's like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you're 40. Doesn't appear that Page responded.
I mean, there is no question about how concerning they are. The question just becomes, did they influence the investigation or not. And Mark Meadows, a Republican in the House, in the Freedom Caucus, said, Asha, that he did learn new information from Peter Strzok in that closed-door testimony.
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. I mean, as Josh said, you know from being in the FBI that these kinds of text messages were not appropriate. They show poor judgment, and Strzok will have to speak for himself. But as he said the question --
HARLOW: But are they illegal?
RANGAPPA: Well, they're not illegal unless they provide evidence that he was leaking information.
RANGAPPA: I mean, if they provide evidence of some other crime. I think the question is that whether -- you know, how did these impact, if at all, any decisions that he made. And, you know, one thing that's really important to note is that there is no case in the FBI that is a one-man show. No one agent directs and makes all decisions and approves himself for everything that happens. And I think it would be important to illicit exactly where his place was in this investigation, who else was involved, and to whom he was reporting.
The IG report actually has in that section about the Anthony Weiner e- mails a line that says that they weren't concerned about the prioritization of the Russia investigation because the assistant director of counterintelligence was actually the one supervising it. An agent named Bill Prestab. So it suggests that there was somebody else over Strzok who was also calling some shots. And I think that would be important to understand how that was playing out.
HARLOW: Yes. Let me just read you, too, as I reach over to get it, part of the IG's findings on that front. Right? The question, Laura Jarrett, that you brought up, did he, because of his personal views, give more time and energy to the Russia probe than figuring out what these e-mails from Hillary Clinton on Anthony Weiner's laptop were all about in the days leading up to the election.