Return to Transcripts main page


Omarosa Releases Secret Recordings at White House; FBI Agent Peter Strzok Fired; . Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired August 13, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

Once again, warning, there are tapes. This morning, a jaw dropping betrayal of trust between the president and one of his former top aides. President Trump secretly recorded. That private conversation now very, very public. Former "Apprentice" contestant-turned White House aide, Omarosa Manigault Newman, just released a recording to NBC News that she says is a phone call with President Trump one day after she was fired from the White House. Here it is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Omarosa, what's going on? I just saw on the news that you are thinking about leaving. What happened?

OMARAOSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: General Kelly -- General Kelly came to me and said that you guys wanted me to leave.

TRUMP: No. Nobody even told me about it. You know, they run a big operation, but I didn't know it. I didn't know that. I don't love you leaving at all.


BOLDUAN: This comes on the heels of another jaw-dropping move. Omarosa releasing what she says is a secret recording of John Kelly firing her. A secret recording, not just made in the White House, but she says recorded in the White House Situation Room, the safe room where the most sensitive of sensitive national security issues are discussed.

For perspective, Omarosa says she recorded this conversation in the same room where this iconic photograph was taken of President Obama overseeing the raid to take out bin Laden, where some of the most crucial American decisions have been made. In that same room, Omarosa says this happened.


JOHN KELLY, CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it's important to understand if we make this a friendly departure, we can all be -- you can look at your time here in White House as a year of service to the nation and then you can go on without any type of difficulty in the future relative to your reputation.


BOLDUAN: In response to that, the president called Omarosa a low life over the weekend, and today says this, "Wacky Omarosa who got fired three times from "The Apprentice" now got fired for the last time. She never made it, never will."

He also calls her vicious and not smart.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is outside the president's golf resort in New Jersey where the president is wrapping up his vacation.

Boris, what is the White House saying about this now?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we see from the White House is what sources indicated last week would be a strategy to try to draw Omarosa's integrity and credibility into question, being led, obviously, by the president who called her a low life and wacky on Twitter. He does acknowledge that he attempted to keep her on board at the White House because she said nice things about him.

We saw deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, on FOX News say Omarosa was only telling self-serving lies.

And specifically about that recording that she made of chief of staff, John Kelly, in the Situation Room as he was dismissing her, press secretary, Sarah Sanders put out this statement this weekend. She writes, "The very idea a staff member would sneak a recording device into the White House Situation Room shows a blatant disregard for national security and then to brag about it proves the lack of character and integrity of this disgruntled former White House employee."

Sarah Sanders not even using Omarosa's name in that statement.

I should point out, Kate, that earlier today, CNN heard from one White House official who told us that Omarosa's recording doesn't really present a serious national security risk, in part, because Omarosa herself was never privy to any sensitive information or to conversations about delicate, sensitive information related to national security. That source does indicate that this brings about more concern within the administration that other people may also be recording conversations -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Boris, great to see you. Thank you so much.

Joining me to discuss this and the fallout now, Josh Dawsey, CNN political analyst, "Washington Post" White House reporter, and Nia Malika Henderson is here, CNN senior political reporter, and Samantha Vinograd, CNN national security analyst, former senior adviser to President Obama's National Security Council.

Sam, let us begin. You have been in the Situation Room. If this is what Omarosa says

it,, how does this happen? Should the conversation between John Kelly and Omarosa, should it have been held in the Situation Room?

SAM VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't have a problem where it was held. There are different levels of conversations that happen there. It isn't the only secure space in the White House. Any room where there's classified information being discussed are even classified information being delivered in paper copy form should not have electronics on it. Whether it was in the Situation Room or John Kelly's office, there shouldn't be cell phones. This is a national security issue. But it's also a personnel issue. Presidents need to hire people that, first and foremost, want to mitigate, not help foreign intelligence services, getting access to our most sensitive places. The White House is doing damage control, say, well, she didn't have access to classified information. The rules don't hang on what you bring into a secure space based on classification. They're the same because foreign intelligence services are advanced. They hack phones. They listen in. They try it see things. That's why you check your phone at the door.

[11:05:34] BOLDUAN: You did that when you were there.

VINOGRAD: I did. I did. You leave your phone outside of any secure space, whether it be the Situation Room or the national security adviser's office. There's a box you put your phone in. You step outside to use it. It's not that hard.

BOLDUAN: There's also other ways of recording conversations than on a phone. That's the other thing that Omarosa did not really -- she left it out there for the imagination this morning in an interview.

Nia, the president's response on this, it's confusing to say the least. He calls her a low life over the weekend. Tears into her in this tweet this morning. He is the one who hired her. She was at the White House because of her relationship with him.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. It's going back to 2004. The president at one point praising Omarosa for making him a star, because she was so critical to the popularity of the show. You can argue that the popularity of the show certainly helped him with his status and his stature and likely helped him get to the White House. If you look at Omarosa and look at Donald Trump, you see a lot of similarities. Not only the reality show past, the Democrat of voting past, before she was with Donald Trump, she was on Hillary Clinton's team. We know Donald Trump donated to Democrats. She ends up master of media. If you look at the rollout of this book, you can see her brilliance in terms of strategy with the tapes, the interviews she's done. It's something Donald Trump has been credited with, too. Also, the kind of way she has an interesting relationship with the truth, also something that you can say about Donald Trump and somebody who likes to stir up drama. He tweeted about her in 2013 basically saying that Omarosa promises drama and always delivers. That's what we see, I think, with this incident.

BOLDUAN: Guy, hold on one second. We are getting breaking news coming in.

ANNOUCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BOLDUAN: Breaking news coming from the "Washington Post," reporting that Peter Strzok, the FBI agent that has been a big topic of conversation with regard to Robert Mueller's investigation, the FBI investigation into Donald Trump, he has been fired.

Shimon Prokupecz is in Washington with all of this.

Shimon, what are you picking up?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Kate. The "Washington Post" reporting that the former, now, FBI employee, head of the Russia investigation at one point, the Hillary Clinton investigation at one point, has been fired by the FBI. He was fired on Friday by the deputy director. It's not clear, at least from this story, as to what ultimately led to this decision. His lawyer confirming it for the "Washington Post."

Of course, as we know, Strzok has come under fire by Trump, by others on the Hill. His firing will probably come at a time for them when they are going to essentially be happy about it. The president who has been calling for his removal, that has happened. According to the "Washington Post," he was fired on Friday.

BOLDUAN: Shimon, thank you so much.

Looking at the "Washington Post" reporting as well.

Let me bring in Josh Dawsey, a "Washington Post" reporter.

Josh, this is coming from a colleague on this. This is a big -- this is a very important moment. Obviously, Peter Strzok is the FBI agent taken off the investigation when the text messages were revealed off the Mueller investigation. He has been on desk duty. Now he is out.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm hearing this for the first time on air. I don't know a ton. I will say, he has been a favorite punching bag for the president. The president tweeted about him day after day after day and has elevated him --


BOLDUAN: One of his favorite punching bags.

DAWSEY: He elevated him and Lisa Page to the forefront of conservative media, segments on FOX News, on "Breitbart." Peter Strzok has really been a figure of particular derision. During his testimony on the Hill, he tried to explain his text messages. He got in a tense debate with GOP members. Some on the left tried to defend him. It's clear that whatever happened with the text messages have been a larger-than-life new story partially because of the president's ability to make it so with nonstop posts and comments about it.

[11:10:15] BOLDUAN: Nia, let me bring you in. As Josh points out, this has been a topic the president definitely has focused on a lot. This was a big deal whether the text messages came out in the inspector general report.

HENDERSON: That's right. You saw him testifying on Capitol Hill there in an explosive series of exchanges there with Republicans who went after him in a very personal way. We will see what Donald Trump says about this. As Josh said, this has been a person who has been enemy number one in many ways of the president. Used to essentially say that the whole Mueller investigation, the Mueller probe was rigged against him. Now what we will see what he says. For some people that are watching this might say, was he still at the FBI after all of that. Of course, he was. As "the Washington Post" is reporting now, he has been relieved of his duties.

BOLDUAN: As we are talking about it, Sam, when Peter Strzok was on the Hill, when he was testifying on Capitol Hill, it was one of the most explosive, multiple hours of testimony that I have ever seen. He defended himself saying those were intimate text messages between him and someone else and in no way did bias -- his personal opinions ever leak into, if you will, any of his work in a professional capacity, defending himself vehemently. Now he is out.

I'm trying -- I'm looking in the "Washington Post." It doesn't say -- it says he was fired after these text messages had come to light. It doesn't say exactly that the reason given for the firing, is not what I'm seeing yet, in the reporting I'm seeing. Your reaction?

VINOGRAD: My reaction is, if he was fired by the FBI, that's not because of pressure from President Trump. It's because the FBI has internal processes, despite what conspiracy theorists like to say. The FBI functions, does internal reviews. The Department of Justice has an inspector general. Likely reviewed his activity and found it violated protocol.

BOLDUAN: Josh, I'm look down at my Twitter feed to see what the president says. What do you think the president does with this?

DAWSEY: I imagine that he elevates it and amplifies a message of him being fired. You have seen the president called for a number of people to be fired. He called for the probe to end. He called for lots of actions of the FBI and DOJ have not taken. As times when he has had a revelation that came out that he sees in favor of him, he talked about it at length. It's hard to imagine the president would not see this as a vindication, even if it is or not. The facts are coming in. I don't know. It's hard to imagine the president won't cast this as a vindication everything I was saying, I was, this guy was fired for bad conduct. As we have seen the president often doesn't let facts get in the way of his argument of how he presents things. You have to imagine this is welcome news for him.

BOLDUAN: Let me get back over to Shimon, who is learning more about this "Washington Post" reporting.

Simon, what are you picking up?

PROKUPECZ: Reporter: the other thing I wanted to add was what this means for the Russia investigation. You now have an FBI -- the head of pretty -- very senior person who was running this investigation at one point. He went to work for the Mueller investigation. Was there. He has been fired.

What does this all mean for those who have been arguing that this has been a witch hunt? What does this mean for those who have been saying this needed to end? Really, what does this mean for those, including the president, who have said it has been a rigged investigation, the FBI was tainted in this investigation? You have to wonder how that will play into all of this. It is certainly an extraordinary step for the FBI to fire such a senior-level official at this point of the investigation. That is incredible. Hopefully, they will give us reasons why they chose to do so now. We know that he had been disciplined. He lost his clearance. He had been removed from the office. It's rare that the FBI takes such an extraordinary step in firing someone. We will see what they say in terms of why they went ahead and did this.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. From "the Washington Post" reporting, FBI is declining to comment. Strzok's attorney though is commenting to "the Washington Post." I will read it for the context. Strzok's attorney says that, "The FBI deputy director ordered the firing on Friday." And says, "Even though the director of the FBI's office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension," Strzok's attorney pointing this out, Strzok's attorney saying, "It undercuts the FBI's assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process."

There seems to be back and forth in this.

Joining the conversation right now is CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers is here, as well as former federal prosecutor, Glenn Kirschner.

Let's talk about this as this breaking news is coming in.

Jennifer, what do you think of this?

[11:15:40] JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, look, I think he has been fired. The FBI doesn't want him anymore. He is not going to get back in there. He was taken out of this investigation and really anything having to do with anything other than personnel matters. I don't think it matters as a practical matter. He wasn't working on anything of importance anyway. He may have legal action, depending on whether he was fired properly, whether he had due process. I think for Mueller and his team, it takes someone out of the way who was still a distraction. Not that they had anything to do with this. They need to focus on what they are doing. The FBI needs to move ahead with what it's doing. It's too bad if he wasn't treated fairly. He may work that out in civil litigation. Everyone else needs to move on from this.

BOLDUAN: Glenn, hold on.

I want to get back to Shimon. He is getting more information. PROKUPECZ: We have a statement now from Peter Strzok's attorney,

Aidan Goelman, essentially confirming the firing. Said it happened on Friday afternoon. They were informed by the deputy director of the FBI. According to the statement, they say that, "The deputy director overruled the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility," also known as OPR, "and departed from established precedent by firing Peter Strzok." They say he is a 20-year -- 21-year veteran. The statement says this, "In doing so, the deputy director reversed a decision of the career FBI official responsible for employee disciple, who concluded through an independent review process, that a 60-day suspension and demotion from supervisory duties was the appropriate punishment."

Again, as I said earlier, this is an unprecedented -- it doesn't happen often where a senior level of the FBI is fired like this. Obviously, we have had other senior level people fired in Andrew McCabe. Another person part of this investigation now fired.

The lawyers arguing this is a departure from typical bureau practice. And also contradicts Director Wray's testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters.

Clearly here, Kate, the attorneys here saying that they did not follow standard procedure. They will have questions. Certainly, others will have questions. Nonetheless, a significant development in this entire story and this entire investigation and what he meant to this politically and legally in this investigation now fired.

Also, I want to point out, Peter Strzok was a 20-year veterans. And what he meant to the FBI in terms of his knowledge on counterintelligence investigations on Russia and China, he led these investigations for all these years. He has now been fired.

BOLDUAN: That's an important perspective.

Glen, just want to get your reaction. With everything reporting, what Peter Strzok's attorney is saying, does this come as a surprise to you?

KIRSCHNER: I think we have to wait and see the facts before we can decide whether it comes as a surprise. Strzok's attorney, Aidan Goelman, is somebody that I worked with at the U.S. attorney's office if Washington, D.C., years ago. He is a fine attorney. I'm a little troubled when I hear him issue a statement that suggests that perhaps the FBI didn't follow protocol and procedures in reaching the decision to fire him. I hope that's not the case. Of course, Mr. Goelman is representing his client right now. That's why we have to wait and see the facts. We have seen that when the FBI or other high leaders of our institutions depart from standard policies and procedures, problems ensue.

Let me tell you, I think all of this, Kate, ultimately will end up being a footnote to the larger question, which is, Agent Strzok said some horrendous things, some inappropriate things in his text messages. When Bob Mueller found out about that, he cut the man out like a cancer. He said, you are fired. This is Bob Mueller as somebody who knows how to conduct an ethical investigation. When he decided that Strzok was inappropriate to be part of the investigation into Russian collusion, he cut him out and he did it definitively. That's what I think we're going to be heartened by moving forward. I think all of this will be something of a footnote.

[11:20:06] BOLDUAN: What questions do you have now, Jennifer? It seems everyone has a lot of questions -- the FBI is not commenting. Who knows if the FBI will. We often hear, we don't comment on personnel matters. The FBI might not comment. I don't know. What questions do you have?

RODGERS: The question really at this point -- we know he did something inappropriate with the text messages. Really the only question is, has he gotten his due process? Has he been treated as he is guaranteed to be treated by the FBI? That's the only question here. We all know that he actually did something wrong. We will have to see how that plays out, whether he gets some sort of relief from a lawsuit or unemployment action related to that. At the end of the day, he is out. I think he is not getting back in. I think Mueller and his team and everyone else is going to move on.

BOLDUAN: I was mentioning earlier the hours and hours of testimony that Peter Strzok offered before Congress a while back. It was a remarkable hearing, all from beginning to end, we could say. Here is one of the moments that was memorable. Peter Strzok speaking with -- this is from his July 12th testimony. Peter Strzok speaking with -- answering questions kind of sort of with Trey Gowdy on the committee. Listen to this moment.


PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: My testimony, what you asked, and what I responded to, was that he kicked me off because of my bias. I'm stating it's not my understanding that he kicked me off because of any bias. It was done based on appearance. If you want to represent what I answered, I'll be happy to answer that question. But I don't appreciate what was originally said being changed.

REP. TREY GOWDY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok. I don't appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented-level of animus working on two major investigations during 2016.


BOLDUAN: Glenn, do you think testimony like that contributes so the FBI's decision that we see now?

KIRSCHNER: I think everything that Agent Strzok said during that hearing factored into the FBI's decision. I would agree that I hope Agent Strzok was treated fairly, notwithstanding the horrendous decisions he made early on. I hope he was treated fairly by the FBI leadership, that they found a fireable offense and they acted accordingly. We have to wait for the facts to come in. We need our institutions to follow their own policies and procedures. BOLDUAN: At this moment, here is one of the facts that we know.

According to the "Washington Post," the FBI agent, Peter Strzok, a major focus of President Trump and his attacks on the Mueller investigation, Peter Strzok fired from the FBI according to the "Washington Post." The firing being ordered on Friday.

We'll have much more on this breaking news coming up.

Also coming up for us, we are following this. The big backtrack from Rudy Giuliani. The president's attorney now claiming that Donald Trump never told James Comey to go easy on Michael Flynn, even though Giuliani said the opposite a month ago. Intentional, unintentional? What is going on? We will be right back.


[11:27:29] BOLDUAN: Which Rudy Giuliani are you supposed to believe? Rudy Giuliani right now doesn't seem to agree with Rudy Giuliani.

Here is August Rudy Giuliani, the one who says the president never discussed former national security adviser Michael Flynn with then-FBI Director James Comey.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president says he never told Comey that he should go easy on Flynn. Comey says the president did. He put it in his memo.

If he goes in and testifies to that under oath, instead of being a dispute, they can say it's perjury, if they elect to believe Comey instead of Trump.


BOLDUAN: Here is, let's call it, July Rudy Giuliani, who said the opposite.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: How is he a good witness for the president if he says the president was directing him if his words to let the Michael Flynn investigation go?

GIULIANI: He didn't correct him to do that. What he said to him was --


STEPHANOPOULOS: Comey says he took it as direct.



BOLDUAN: How do you make sense of these conflicting statements? Rudy Giuliani says they're not conflicting at all.


GIULIANI: The president didn't say to him, "Go easy on Flynn," or anything about Flynn. He is saying that. I am talking about their alternative. I'm saying, the conversation never took place. If it did take place -- here is the conversation that's alleged -- it's not illegal to have said that.


BOLDUAN: Confused? Why is this so confusing? Is that the point?

Here with me now, again, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, and former federal prosecutor, Glenn Kirschner.

Thanks for sticking around.

Changing gears. Is it clear what Giuliani is saying, Jennifer?

RODGERS: No. I don't believe any of the Giulianis in response to your earlier question --


BOLDUAN: Can't wait to meet September Giuliani.

RODGERS: He cannot be trusted to tell us the truth. They are playing a different game than the special counsel is playing. They're playing the public relations game. Confuse everybody. Keep the base and everybody else confused. We will fight this out in public opinion or impeachment proceedings, which is Congress, which is the court of public opinion basically. You know, I don't even know what to say except that I'm kind of trying to put my fingers in my ears and stop listening to what Giuliani is saying because none of it can be trusted at this point.

BOLDUAN: Jennifer, putting your fingers in your ears is not an acceptable response. Engage. Inform me. Clarify.

Glen, to try to help clarify, let me play one more piece of sound from Rudy Giuliani this morning. His explanation today on why he is not contradicting himself, that he is implementing a strategy. Listen.


GIULIANI: So, we have three defenses to that. Under Article II of the Constitution --