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FBI Agent Peter Strzok Testifies on Capitol Hill; DHS Says All Eligible Migrants Under Age 5 Reunited with Parents; DOJ Reopens Emmett Till Probe; Jim Jordan Says He's Focused on Doing Job; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 12, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The IG found, "We did not have confidence that Strzok's decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the mid-year related investigation which is the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias."

I would think that that part, they can't say it was free from bias will be a big part of the questioning today. What do you think?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Absolutely. Lawmakers have keyed into that language in particular because it's the one part of that 500-page report that really says bias is at issue here. But, you know, it's interesting. Strzok doesn't shy away from the idea that Russia was a priority.

HARLOW: Right.

JARRETT: In fact, both he and his lawyer, and we anticipate he will say today, this is an extensional threat to our democracy. And the fact that we're having this hearing is actually a notch in Putin's belt. So I don't think Strzok would shy away from the fact that he prioritized Russia. He would say he had grounds to do it.

HARLOW: Right.

JARRETT: But he would also say, as Asha mentioned, there were a whole slew of superior people in the FBI that he reported to. And so it wasn't as if he was making any of these decisions alone or in a vacuum.

HARLOW: Right. And he'll make the case that, hey, if I wanted to make this anti-Trump or hurt his chances in the election, I would have -- you know, would have pushed to come out and announce that we were having this investigation because at the time no one in the public knew about it.

All right, guys, stay with me. We're going to get a quick break and as we continue to watch these opening statements on Capitol Hill. When Peter Strzok begins to testify, you'll see it all live right here.

Also, this morning the government says it has finished reuniting every single one of these children under 5 separated from their parents at the border. But still thousands of children do remain separated. We'll have a live update from Texas, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:36:14] HARLOW: All right. So this morning the government says it has reunited the remaining eligible children under 5 years old with their parents. Of course, these are families that were separated at the border. Of those, just over 100 children Homeland Security does note 46 of them were not able to be reunited with their parents for various reasons, including some of the parents' criminal histories. This as the administration implements new asylum rules that have the potential to turn away thousands of asylum seekers in this country. It's a significant development.

Let's go to Rosa Flores. She joins me now in McAllen, Texas, with more.

And Rosa, we're just learning moments ago that HHS says they're also beginning the process right now. They've already started to reunite the children 5 years to 17 years old. So the next batch that they have a deadline in just a few weeks to meet.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The deadline is going to come fast, Poppy. And we're talking about thousands of children between the ages of 5 and 17 years old. And so that's going to be daunting. When you think about in the past two weeks they have reunited, as you mentioned, 57 children under the age of 5. And this is out of 103 children.

Now, according to the government, the remaining 46 children, they had parents who were not fit to be reunited. And for those reasons they stated, according to the government, because the parents had criminal histories or they were actually not the parents or the parents had already been deported. Now DHS and HHS defending the pace of their policy and their process, saying that it's for the safety and security of those children -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Rosa, talk to me about this new policy. Because when it comes to those coming to this country in a legal fashion, seeking asylum, there are rules that govern that while Jeff Sessions announced different guidelines and different rules a month ago. Those changes take place today. What are they and what is the expected impact?

FLORES: You know, they're implementing this new policy announced last month. In essence, individuals who come to the border seeking asylum and using either gang violence or domestic violence as the basis for that asylum application can be rejected. And officers can actually also look at their illegal entry if that was the case, and use it against that asylum-seeker. And the same policies are going to be used for refugee applications, as well.

Poppy, I can tell you that within the advocacy community, there is a lot of concern because the majority of the applications coming in from Central America, from the northern triangle, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, these people are fleeing gang violence and they're coming to the United States seeking asylum to try to get away from that violence. So there is a lot of different complications there and advocates are very, very concerned.

HARLOW: Concerned and also raising legal challenges to all of this as this goes through the courts. We'll keep certainly watching it.

Rosa, thank you for being there in McAllen, Texas.

All right. Back to Capitol Hill. Embattled FBI agent, Peter Strzok, is about to give his opening remarks. First time we will all hear from him publicly. He is the man at the center of those anti-Trump text messages. We'll bring you his testimony as soon as it begins.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:43:35] HARLOW: All right. Breaking news this morning. The Department of Justice has reopened the investigation of the murder of Emmitt Till. Of course Emmitt Till was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman. That lynching sparked outrage across the country, also helped spark and prompt the Civil Rights Movement.

Our Kaylee Hartung is on this story. And I think, you know, just to remind people that, you know, the brothers that were charged of this murder were acquitted, and then later confessed. They are now dead. But what is this new information that has led the Department of Justice to reopen the case?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, we don't know. The Department of Justice saying they have reopened this case because of new information, but because this is an ongoing investigation, officials are not willing to share with us what that information is.

We're just learning of this today. But members of Congress were actually informed that this case would be reopened back in March when the Department of Justice submitted a report to them that they submit annually, due to an act under Emmett Till's name. And as you mentioned, when these two men from Mississippi were prosecuted for Emmett Till's murder in 1955, they were acquitted. And both men later admitted to a journalist that they did, in fact, murder Till, but they weren't retried.

This case was reopened after their deaths, closed in 2007. Now with it being reopened again, the question is, will this move the needle? What is this new information? Civil rights activists are pointing to a book that came out last year, "The Blood of Emmett Till" by Timothy Tyson.

[10:45:06] They're saying this could be that source of new information. In that book, Carolyn Dunham, the woman who was then the wife of and half sister of those two brothers who admit to Till's murder, in this book she says that she lied when she testified. She says she was untruthful when she said that Till made sexual advances against her and grabbed her in that store in Mississippi in 1955. In the book, she is quoted as saying nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him.

Poppy, we have reached out to her for comment but have not received a call back.

HARLOW: Important story, important reporting. Kaylee Hartung, thank you very much for that.

Meantime, quote, "I am focused on doing our job." That's the latest message from embattled Congressman Jim Jordan as he faces even more questions over accusations that he ignored alleged sexual abuse while he was an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State. Listen to what he told our Sunlen Serfaty just seconds before this House Oversight hearing with Peter Strzok.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are new allegations that do keep coming out. Do you intend to respond to each and every one of them? I am sure you've heard some of these new allegations.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: As I said yesterday, six assistant coaches and all kinds of wrestlers are saying the same thing I'm saying. And the reason they're saying that is because it's true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Jean Casarez on this story with us. So what else have we learned?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the head coach of the wrestling department, Russ Hellickson, during the time that Jim Jordan was the assistant coach, has now spoken out to CNN. And he says things that could be very surprising to some, and my colleague, Sara Ganim spoke with him over the phone.

Let's look at some of the quotes in regard to what he discussed with his assistant coach Jim Jordan. He told CNN, quote, "We never talked about it. I never brought it up. Maybe Jim never saw it. So I don't know what Jimmy -- maybe the guy is so focused, we never talked about it. I never brought it up. I never sat in a coach's meeting and said, what are we going to do about Larkin's Hall," and that is the shower facility where many of the former wrestlers say that it was just so obvious Dr. Strauss in there and his looks at the other athletes and the other wrestlers.

But he's very emotional about it, Russ Hellickson. He said this is agonizing because he cares about everyone involved. But the pivotal thing that's interesting he didn't say, as the head coach, did he go to the authorities at Ohio State University himself? He doesn't mention or discuss that.

HARLOW: All right, Jean Casarez, thank you very, very much. Important update for us.

We are waiting. In just moments -- let's listen to Peter Strzok on Capitol Hill.

REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Do you swear that the testimony that you are about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?

PETER STRZOK, FBI: I do.

GOODLATTE: Thank you. Let the record show that the witness answered in the affirmative.

Mr. Peter Strzok is a deputy assistant director of the human resources division of the FBI. Mr. Strzok has worked at the FBI for approximately 22 years. Prior to his current assignment, he was a deputy assistant director in the Counterintelligence Division. It was his assignment in that division that brings him before the committees today, as we continue our investigation.

Your written statement will be entered into the record in its entirety, and we ask you summarize your testimony in five minutes. To help you stay within that time, there is a timing light on your table. When the light switches from green to yellow, you have one minute to conclude your testimony. When the light turn reds, it signals your five minutes have expired.

Mr. Strzok, you may begin.

STRZOK: Chairman Goodlatte and Gowdy, Ranking Members Nadler and Cummings, thank you for the opportunity to testify before your committees again this time in an open hearing. I testify today with significant regret, recognizing that my texts had created confusion and caused pain for people I love. Certain private messages of mine have provided ammunition for misguided attacks against the FBI. An institution that I love deeply and have served proudly for over 20 years.

I'm eager to answer your questions, but let me first address those much-discussed texts. Like many people, I had and expressed personal political opinions during an extraordinary presidential election. Many contained expressions of concern for the security of our country, opinions that were not always expressed in terms I'm proud of. But having worked in national security for two decades and proudly served in the U.S. Army, those opinions were expressed out of deep patriotism and an unyielding belief in our great American democracy.

At times, my criticism was blunt, but despite how it's been characterized, it was not limited to one person or to one party.

[10:50:06] I criticized various countries and politicians, including Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders, then candidate Trump and others. But let me be clear. Unequivocally and under oath, not once in my 26 years of defending our nation did my personal opinions impact any official action I took.

This is true for the Clinton e-mail investigation. For the investigation into Russian interference, and for every other investigation I've worked on. It is not who I am, and it is not something I would ever do. Period.

I understand that my sworn testimony will not be enough for some people. After all, Americans are skeptical of anything coming out of Washington. But the fact is, after months of investigations, there is simply no evidence of bias in my professional actions. There is, however, one extraordinarily important piece of evidence supporting my integrity, the integrity of the FBI and our lack of bias.

In the summer of 2016, I was one of a handful of people who knew the details of Russian election interference and its possible connections with members of the Trump campaign. This information had the potential to derail and quite possibly defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of expressing that or exposing that information never crossed my mind. That's what FBI agents do every single day, and that's why I'm so proud of the bureau. And I am particularly proud of the work that I and many others did on the Clinton e-mail investigation.

Our charge was to investigate it competently, honestly and independently, and that's exactly what happened. I'm also proud of our work on the Russian interference investigation. This is an investigation into a direct attack by a foreign adversary. And it is no less so simply because it was launched against our democratic process rather than against a military base.

This is something that all Americans of all political persuasions should be alarmed by. In the summer of 2016, we had an urgent need to protect the integrity of an American presidential election from a hostile foreign power determined to weaken and divide the United States of America.

This investigation is not politically motivated. It is not a witch hunt. It is not a hoax. I expect that during this hearing I'll be asked about that ongoing investigation. Where the FBI has directed me not to answer, I will abide by the FBI's instructions. But let me be clear. This is not because I don't want to answer your questions. If I were permitted to answer, I would. And the answers would doubtless be disappointing to the questioners and undermine the conspiracy narrative being told about the Russia investigation.

I understand we're living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. But the honest truth is that Russian interference in our elections constitutes a grave attack on our democracy. Most disturbingly, it has been wildly successful. Sowing discord in our nation and shaking faith in our institutions.

I have the utmost respect for Congress' oversight role but I strongly believe today's hearing is just another victory notch in Putin's belt and another milestone in our enemy's campaign to tear America apart. As someone who loves this country and cherishes its ideals, it is profoundly painful to watch, and even worse to play a part in.

Mr. Chairman, I welcome your questions.

GOODLATTE: We will now proceed under the five-minute rule with questions. I will begin by recognizing the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Mr. Gowdy.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, Agent Strzok, the FBI investigation into potential Russia collusion with the Trump campaign began on July 31st, 2016. You drafted the originating document. You approved the originating document. You were the point of contact on the originating document. And the FBI has represented to Congress that nothing from an investigative standpoint with respect to Russian collusion and the Trump campaign began before July 31st, 2016.

But 10 days before the investigation even began, 10 days before you drafted the originating document, approved the originating document, was the point of contact on the originating document, 10 days before the investigation began, which the department you worked for says nothing was done before July 31st, you said Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be.

[10:55:15] And because you struggled a couple of weeks ago with a word that I thought had a commonly accepted definition, I'm going to go ahead and give you the definition of destabilizing. The first one kind of is obvious. It's to make unstable. The second one caught my attention. The second dictionary definition. To call something such as a government to be incapable of functioning or surviving.

That's a pretty significant allegation to make 10 days before you even began to investigate someone. So that was before July 31st. I want to ask you, in that first week -- we'll go ahead and up it to eight days. Between July 31st and August 8th, how many interviews did you conduct related to the alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign?

STRZOK: Congressman, as you know, counsel for the FBI, based on the special counsel's equities has instructed me not to answer questions about the ongoing investigation.

GOWDY: I'm asking for a number --

STRZOK: For the Russian attempts to --

(CROSSTALK)

GOWDY: Agent Strzok, I'm asking for a number. I haven't gotten to the names. How many people had you -- had you interviewed between the beginning of July 31st and August the 8th. It's an eight-day time period. We're a week into an investigation. How many people had you interviewed?

STRZOK: Congressman, I understand your question. I appreciate it, and I would very much like to answer. But as I've stated, as you know that counsel of the FBI, based on the special counsel's equities, have directed me not to answer any questions about the ongoing investigation into Russian attempts to interfere.

GOWDY: So --

GOODLATTE: The gentleman will suspend and the clock will suspend.

Mr. Strzok, you are under subpoena and are required to answer the question. Are you objecting to the question? If so please state your objection. STRZOK: Mr. Chairman, I object.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman does not have standing to object. There is no --

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Point of order.

GOODLATTE: No point of order here. Point of order. It should be heard. The gentleman will state his point of order.

NADLER: My point of order is that intentionally or otherwise, this demand puts Mr. Strzok in an impossible position. He is still an employee of the FBI, and FBI counsel has instructed him not to answer the question.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman --

NADLER: If we have a problem with this policy, we should take it up with the FBI, not badger Mr. Strzok.

GOODLATTE: The gentleman's point of order is not well-taken.

NADLER: It's right on point.

GOODLATTE: No, it's not. Mr. Strzok, are you objecting to the question? And if so, please state your objection.

STRZOK: Mr. Chairman, two things. One, I do not believe I am here under subpoena. I believe I am here voluntarily. Second, I will not, based on direction of the FBI to me, based on that, I will not answer that question. Because it goes to matters which are related to the ongoing investigations being undertaken by the Special Counsel's Office.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, you have not stated a valid legal basis for not responding to a question directed to you by a member of the United States House of Representatives, and you are overruled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: Let me continue. Your testimony is essential to this hearing and to our oversight and information gathering functions with regard to the actions taken, and decisions made by Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2016 and 2017.

I am specifically directing you to answer the question in response to our subpoena. Notwithstanding your objection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: Mr. Strzok, please be advised that you can either comply with the committee's directive to answer the question or refuse to do so. The latter of which will place you at risk of a contempt citation and potential criminal liability.

NADLER: Point of order. GOODLATTE: Do you understand that?

NADLER: Point of order, Mr. Chairman.

GOODLATTE: The question is directed to the witness.

NADLER: And I have a point of order before he answers the question.

GOODLATTE: The point of order is not well taken until --

NADLER: You don't know what the point of order is. You can't say it's not well taken.

GOODLATTE: The point of order -- the witness will answer the question.

NADLER: Mr. Chairman, I raise my point of order and I insist on it.

GOODLATTE: What is the point of order?

NADLER: The United States attorney's manual instructs department personnel not to respond to questions about the existence of an ongoing investigation or comment on its nature or progress. In a letter to Congressman John Linden in 2000, referred to as Linden Letters, the department made this policy explicitly applicable to requests from Congress, quote, "Although Congress has a clearly legitimate interest in determining how the department enforces statutes, congressional inquiries during the pendency of a matter pose an inherent threat to the integrity of the department's law enforcement and litigation functions," unquote.

Therefore, the chairman -- the question being directed at the witness is out of order.