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Rod Rosenstein to Leave Justice Department After William Barr's Confirmation; Unredacted Paul Manafort Filings Hint at Collusion. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired January 9, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:16] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. This morning, the man who hired Robert Mueller to investigate Russian election interference and defended that election probe a number of times is on his way out. CNN has learned that Rod Rosenstein plans to leave his post as deputy attorney general once the attorney general nominee William Barr is confirmed, if he is confirmed. That is expected to happen within weeks.
HARLOW: We're also following the clearest, most direct indication so far of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. A court filing that was made public, oops, largely by accident, something that was supposed to be redacted was not. What it shows is really important. It shows that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort showed internal Trump team polling data with a Russian colleague.
That Russian colleague had ties to Russian intelligence, and the timing matters. This happened at the height of Russian hacking, trolling and leaking designed to elevate the Trump campaign and disparage Hillary Clinton.
Why would he share that data with the Russians? And a key question this morning is, did the president, then-candidate, know about it at the time?
Much more on that in a moment. We begin, though, with the end game for Rod Rosenstein. Let's go to the Justice Department. Laura Jarrett is there.
You know, he actually lasted a long time in this role. Two years, you know, when you look relatively at history and how long people hold those roles. And he didn't get fired.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's right, Poppy. And there were certain times when we were not sure exactly what the future held for the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein but I'm now told that -- someone familiar with his thinking tell me, rather, that he is expected to leave once Bill Barr, the president's permanent nominee for attorney general, is confirmed, sometime soon thereafter.
The timing has not been nailed down exactly. And I'm also told that he is not being forced out but he has informed the White House of his thinking and he wants to ensure a smooth transition for Barr assuming that he is confirmed.
Now the reason of course that Rosenstein is a household name is because he appointed Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation of May 2017. And so the big question is does this new news signal that the Russia investigation is finally coming to a conclusion?
Now a source tells my colleague Evan Perez that Rosenstein has signaled to other officials that he has wanted to stay on until Mueller was completed or at least nearly completed that he felt that the probe would be protected. But another big question of course is what happens to that confident report that we've all been waiting for Mueller to finish?
And that's what raises the stakes for Bill Barr's confirmation hearing next week as he has been critical of Mueller in the past and will certainly be questioned fiercely by senators about his position on that report -- Jim and Poppy.
SCIUTTO: Laura Jarrett, thanks very much.
Rosenstein's departure could be voluntary and from all indications it is, but he and the president have certainly had their very public differences. He's been the target of an enormous amount of criticism from this president for his handling of the probe.
SCIUTTO: CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us now.
What are you hearing this morning as this news breaks?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim and Poppy. Needless to say it has been a very rocky relationship between the president and the deputy attorney general. And really it's all because Rod Rosenstein oversaw the Russia probe. He named Robert Mueller a special counsel in May 2017, days after the president fired FBI director James Comey. And really that was then in May 2017 that the president's torrent of tweets really began slamming the Russia probe. But it's fair to say that Rosenstein was never really deterred.
We know that he wrote a memo to the special counsel a few months later in August 2017, giving really great latitude to the probe and to investigators, but tensions really did flair in recent months here when reports emerged back in September that Rod Rosenstein had discussed with other officials wearing a wire to record conversations with the president and then possibly recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th amendment to actually remove President Trump from office.
Now after those reports came out, Rosenstein strongly denied them and shortly thereafter he even made an appearance at the White House attempting maybe to smooth things over. The president insisted at that point that he had no plans to fire Rosenstein but nevertheless the president has repeatedly lashed out against the deputy attorney general on Twitter. He re-tweeted in November a picture that showed Rosenstein among other prominent politicians behind bars, so we're getting a glimpse there of how the president has been feeling about Rosenstein among others.
So really a very tough tenure for the deputy attorney general but a source, of course, telling our Laura Jarrett that Rosenstein is not being forced out, that he has informed the White House of his plans to depart once the expected new attorney general William Barr takes over.
But, you know, Jim and Poppy, the deputy attorney general enduring a lot over his tenure that has now spanned almost two years -- guys.
[09:05:04] SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, these were not small disagreements. The deputy attorney general thought that the president should be removed from office. I mean, this is --
HARLOW: Right. And then said he was joking or the reporting was about invoking the 25th Amendment but -- yes. I mean, behind the Barr (INAUDIBLE).
HARLOW: Thank you, Jess.
Let's talk more about this. Joining us now, former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu, national political reporter for the "Washington Post," Matt Viser.
Good morning to you two. And, Shan, to you, there's some really important CNN reporting as to the timing here, right? And why Rosenstein feels comfortable leaving now and that is that he signaled to officials that he would only leave if he were satisfied that the Mueller probe was either complete or close enough to complete that it was protective. I mean, that really -- that says a lot. What does it indicate to you?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm not entirely sure we can infer that that is what he said. To me the White House is clearing the decks. I mean, whatever is in the Mueller probe it's going to be negative, no matter what. And so they really need to be prepared for that.
Barr coming in -- Barr was previously a deputy attorney general before he became the attorney general so he's been in Rosenstein's slot. He does not need a stronghold over DAG, overseeing the deputy attorney general, overseeing the criminal investigations. He can take care of that himself.
The current person, obviously, Whitaker, has ignored ethical advice to recuse himself. Barr is not going to recuse himself. I think they're getting ready to exert whatever damage control they can exert over what's coming up. SCIUTTO: It's interesting, Matt Viser, because a couple of weeks ago
Rosenstein said that once Barr becomes aware of the facts of the investigation that he will not get in its way. And in fact it was a public statement. I mean, of course he can't make a judgment about where Barr is going to go with this, but it was an interesting public statement, was it not, from the deputy attorney general laying the groundwork perhaps for this?
MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Yes. And I also think that this elevates -- I think already Bill Barr was going to be questioned about his critical views of the Mueller probe during the confirmation hearings starting next week. I think this elevates that even more, I mean, at least for Democrats on that committee who are going to press him on those views as he comes in. And who knows how long the Mueller probe continues. Also remember that Matt Whitaker has been overseeing that for the past couple of weeks since he took office in an acting capacity and did not recuse himself.
VISER: So I think that's important to note as well.
HARLOW: Shan, when it comes to Barr overseeing this, Rosenstein has been supportive of him, but we've all now read the 20-page memo that Barr wrote unsolicited to the DOJ last year in which he slammed Mueller's obstruction investigation, that part of the probe, as grossly irresponsible and said things such as we should not indulge the fancies by overzealous prosecutors.
As Barr goes to the Hill today to meet with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee whom he will testify in front of, what are the key questions that they have to ask him on that front?
WU: They're going to ask him, is your mind already made up, and he, of course, is going to say no, of course not, and he is going to look at the facts just as Rosenstein said. But I personally think the fact is he's only getting this job because of what his views were expressed there and I think Trump may finally have the AG that he wants in place when Barr comes in, and they're looking to him to do damage control. How much he can do, we don't know.
SCIUTTO: Matt Viser, though, is it a done deal that Barr gets confirmed? I mean, it's -- Republicans certainly have a majority in the Senate but there are Republicans who have been concerned, Mitt Romney among them, about the president's statements and attempts to curtail the Russia probe.
VISER: Yes. And I think that this does elevate that issue. I think it's likely that he gets confirmed but in these confirmation battles it's always hard to tell what else will emerge. We saw that with the Kavanaugh hearings.
VISER: You know, for example, it took a different path than we expected. So it is hard to tell. I think the chances are very likely, though, that he gets confirmed.
HARLOW: Shan, to you, do you see any sort of possibility here, barring a Kavanaugh type situation of very new information coming to the fore, that Barr is going to have a real Republican challenge in the Senate?
WU: I don't think so. I agree with Matt. I think it's very likely he's going to be confirmed. I mean, he is a former attorney general of the United States. It's going to be hard to really challenge him on his qualifications and experience.
SCIUTTO: So, Shan, let's talk about the other revelation yesterday and this is that Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data, internal Trump campaign polling day with a Russian tied to Russian intelligence at a time when a hostile foreign power was interfering in the election to the benefit of Trump.
[09:10:05] I mean, let's just lay that out there. From your -- just as a lawyer, what is the legal standard for a conspiracy? And does that provide evidence of conspiracy?
WU: It could certainly be a step in the furtherance of the conspiracy. I think this is the closest thing to a smoking gun that we have but I think there are a couple of caveats to that. First, we don't quite have exactly the tie from there to the Russian efforts at interference but certainly the fact that he's speaking with him, I can't imagine legitimate reason for speaking with him about polling data.
Manafort's lawyers of course will say if they haven't already said that they had a pre-existing relationship. It's not like it was a stranger on stranger situation, and that's why he was talking to him but that sort of begs the question which is why was Manafort given those ties, continuing to work with those relationships, in the position of being the campaign manager and talking about the campaign issues.
SCIUTTO: Why? What possible reason? I mean, it's just -- it's such a basic question.
HARLOW: Right. And did the president know.
Guys, thank you very much. Shan Wu, Matt Viser, we appreciate it.
SCIUTTO: We're going to have much more on Manafort in a moment. Plus crucial meetings today as the government shutdown hits day 19. Nearly three weeks. The president heading to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans as the party shows some signs of cracking over this stalemate.
HARLOW: And a CNN exclusive. We've obtained an e-mail from a high ranking TSA official who warns about the impact of this shutdown on security at one of California's latest airports. We have the latest. [09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: A botched court filing
has revealed that former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort shared 2016 polling data, internal data, with a Russian who the U.S. knows is tied to Russian intelligence, and that he is accused of lying to the special counsel Robert Mueller about sharing that information.
Take note of this. "The chairman of Donald Trump's campaign shared polling data with a foreign power that was interfering in the election to Trump's benefit at the time. The simplest question is why?"
Cnn crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz joins me now live from Washington. So Shimon, the first revelation, perhaps the most remarkable here, Manafort sharing that polling data with a Russian tied to the Russian military intelligence. What do we know?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, and that is quite remarkable when you think about everything that has gone on in this investigation. And really, when you look at what was going around during the time period, this was during the 2016 election when Paul Manafort was the chairman of the campaign.
And essentially what his attorneys yesterday admitted was that he was sharing internal polling data, sensitive information with a Russian by the name of Konstantin Kilimnik who is tied to Russian intelligence, tied to the Russian government.
Is also has been charged by the special counsel's office. Now, Kilimnik and Paul Manafort have a long-standing relationship. They have a business relationship and they've known each other for years. But like you said, Jim, we just don't know why?
Why would Kilimnik ask for this information? Why would Paul Manafort feel it important to share this information with someone who has connections to the Russian government? But keep in mind what was going on around this time was that the Russians themselves were launching their own social media blitz, kind of trying to impact the election, stir up animosity towards Hillary Clinton.
Of course, several of the Russians -- a firm was indicted in connection with this effort by the Mueller team. So perhaps maybe some of this data -- and we don't know this for sure was being shared, some of this polling data was being shared with the Russians for that social media campaign.
SCIUTTO: Did it help them target that social media campaign --
PROKUPECZ: That's exactly right --
SCIUTTO: Mistakes. The other thing we learned from this filing is that Manafort discussed with Kilimnik a peace plan for Ukraine and he did so multiple times, and a peace plan that frankly was favorable to Russian interests.
PROKUPECZ: Yes, absolutely, and this has to do with the Crimea, right? There are sanctions against the Russians for that U.S. sanctions, for what they did there in the annexation. So certainly, it's not the first time that we've seen Russians trying to reach out to people in the Trump campaign about sanctions.
And this was obviously another thing that has concerned the special counsel's office because was there any kind of back channel effort to try and get Trump to eventually lift some of these sanctions? We've seen countless number of meetings where sanctions were discussed and this is another example of what was going on here.
Again, Kilimnik reaching out, talking to Paul Manafort, trying to perhaps sway some future decisions by Trump who would eventually be the president.
SCIUTTO: Yes, and of course, he lied about it, too, Manafort did. Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.
POPPY HARLOW, CO-HOST, NEWSROOM: All right, joining me now to talk about this and much more, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, he of course is a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Good morning, senator.
SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Good morning, Poppy.
HARLOW: So let's talk about the reporting we just got from Shimon there. We know all of this with Manafort, what's happening while he was deeply in debt to that Russian with ties to intelligence, also while he was discussing a potentially Ukrainian peace deal that would be pro-Russia.
So the timing matters a lot here. Here's how your fellow senator Republican James Lankford of Oklahoma this morning sees it when he was asked by my colleague John Berman, look, is this collusion, he said no, and then he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: No, it doesn't, communicating with someone about a polling data and what's going is no secret thing in that sense. So again, looking for that as the smoking gun, I think would be a pretty big stretch.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Do you see it that way?
[09:20:00] MENENDEZ: No, not at all. Every time we peel back the onion, we see another part of Trump's orbit linked to Russia. And the reality is that what's the polling information of value for if not to give you insight as to what messaging or issues are going to be important to the American people so that you can ultimately seek to influence them in your goal to get Donald Trump elected.
And to give it to Kilimnik, who actually has Russian intelligence ties and with a suggestion that it should go to Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, incredibly close to Putin sanctioned by the United States government, by the way, is only in my mind a total vehicle into Putin for the purposes of giving him information that can ultimately be used to affect the American elections.
HARLOW: And the question becomes did the president or anyone else in the campaign know about it? Was it done at the behest of the campaign or was it done individually? Because look, he was deeply indebted to Oleg Deripaska, we don't know at this point, but you can bet that Mueller knows a lot more than we do on this front.
Let me ask you about the --
MENENDEZ: Absolutely --
HARLOW: Confirmation hearing next week of course before the Senate. You have William Barr; the president's pick for Attorney General, elevated importance now that Rod Rosenstein we know is stepping down. A key question of course is going to be will he allow the Mueller probe to continue undeterred?
You know how critical he's been about the obstruction part of the Mueller probe calling it grossly irresponsible. Still though, he does have Rosenstein's full support. Does he have your full support, William Barr?
MENENDEZ: Well, I'm going to have to wait to see how he answers at the hearing. Look, his memo is disturbing, concerning. The other element of this, we have to see if he'll make public commitments not only to allow the Mueller investigation to continue to its final conclusion unfettered, but also will he make commitments to make Mueller's report public?
And I think the special counsel's report should be public. But all this speaks to the need to protect the special counsel and not leave it to the whims of whether or not a future Attorney General can be influenced by the president to ultimately end the Mueller investigation and the president's come extremely dangerously close to trying to accomplish that at various times.
HARLOW: On the government shutdown, we just heard from -- we just heard from Congressman Representative James Clyburn on "NEW DAY" moments ago. And he said quote, "I think we're very close to a deal." That's news and that's progress. Do you, senator, think that Republicans and Democrats are close to a deal to get the government back open?
And if so, do you have any details you can share?
MENENDEZ: I don't and I'm not aware that we're that close at all.
HARLOW: OK --
MENENDEZ: If anything, we should -- this is simple, we should have never had a shutdown, and secondly, at least let's get all of the elements of the government reopened that have nothing to do with border security and potential of a wall. HARLOW: And you do have some Republican colleagues who are on board
with that now. Lisa Murkowski saying, look, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. There's sort of this infrastructuring within the Republicans in terms of maintaining this shutdown, which in a few days will be the longest we've seen.
You wrote a letter yesterday to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and you asked him a number of questions, including State Department data to back up some of those just baseless claims that were made by the administration on illegal immigration, ties to terrorism and that were made by the president last night.
A, have you received a response? And B, I suppose what is the single most important answer you want from Secretary Pompeo?
MENENDEZ: Well, no, I haven't received a response yet, and secondly, I want to totally debunk this suggestion that the administration has been using, the president didn't use it last night as it's been debunked, that 4,000 terrorists came over the border as a result of our -- you know, our challenges at the southern border.
Now, that's just simply not true. Simply not true. And the same thing on the question of drugs. The reality is that whatever drugs come into this country overwhelmingly come through ports of entry that are supervised by Customs and Border inspections.
And so the type of technology that we have been talking about as Democrats as part of border security would dramatically affect the ability for traffickers to get anything in. And that's the type of technology that makes sense to be using at a border.
HARLOW: It is the case that, you know, a large portion of the majority of the fentanyl that's coming over, the heroin that's coming over from Mexico comes through those ports of entry smuggled in big trucks, et cetera with other items.
Look, we know what the White House aim is here, and part of their strategy after the president's prime time address last night because Jim Acosta was told by his source that they will focus on Democrats calling this a manufactured crisis.
And that they think that benefits the president's agenda because Democrats do agree, you among them, that there is a humanitarian issue here that we do have to improve border security. Do you think that was a misstep by some of your Democratic colleagues to call it a manufactured crisis?
MENENDEZ: Well, I think what they were saying is that the president -- you know, I hate to say this about the president of the United States, but he lies and he is, you know, fast with the --
[09:25:00] HARLOW: But should the Democrats not --
MENENDEZ: With half-truths at the end of the day.
HARLOW: Should the Democrats not have undercut this, basically saying there is no crisis here?
MENENDEZ: I don't think anybody has suggested that there isn't a challenge at the southern border, there is. But that challenge comes from a lack of a Central American policy to deal with the root causes. Why do people flee from Central America and take their children?
They flee because their choice is stay and die? Or see my daughter raped or see my son forcibly put into a gang or flee and take a chance at living? If those are --
HARLOW: Yes --
MENENDEZ: My choices, I would -- as a parent --
HARLOW: So --
MENENDEZ: I would take my chance at fleeing and living.
HARLOW: So Senator, finally, we saw yesterday, you break from a number of your Democratic colleagues who are refusing in the Senate to vote on anything until this shutdown ends.
And just yesterday, you voted in favor of this series of bills related to U.S. support for Israel and Jordan, and also further sanctions on the Syrian regime. That failed 56-44 in the Senate. Are your fellow Democrats in the Senate who are withholding their votes, are they misguided?
MENENDEZ: Look, I am -- if we are going to have a consistent position that we will vote against everything regardless of what it is, the lands package that is possibly coming up or anything else, until the government is open, that I'm on board for that.
But I did not deduce from my colleagues yesterday, that there is going to be a continuing know on everything.
HARLOW: OK --
MENENDEZ: And so this is a package I worked very hard on as the ranking Democrat --
HARLOW: Yes --
MENENDEZ: On Foreign Relations Committee, that I think is very important to national security. I would have voted no, if I was convinced that we were going to be voting no on everything.
HARLOW: Understood. Senator Bob Menendez, I appreciate your time this morning, thank you.
MENENDEZ: Good to be with you, Poppy.
SCIUTTO: Just said there, the president lies, quite a remarkable thing for a sitting senator to say.
HARLOW: That's true.
SCIUTTO: Next, we head to Capitol Hill on where things stand on the ongoing shutdown, and we are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks set to rise as you can see there a little bit at the start of trading this after U.S. and China trade talks wrap up.
Investors weighed on the minutes from the Federal Reserve meeting last month. For more insight into the debate about raising interest rates this year.