Return to Transcripts main page


Rod Rosenstein to Leave Justice Department After William Barr's Confirmation; Unredacted Paul Manafort Filings Hint at Collusion; Trump Heads to Capitol Hill to Meet with Senate GOP Over Shutdown; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 9, 2019 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Democratic leaders of the House to step before the cameras and talk about any progress if any exist towards ending this partial government shutdown that is now in its 19th day.

For his part, President Trump is due on the Hill later this afternoon. He'll have his third meeting with congressional leadership, not lobbying Dems, but trying to support -- and shore up support for those Republicans who have been breaking with him on his stance on demanding this money for a border wall or keeping the government shut.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We're also following major news this hour from the Justice Department. Sources tell us that that man there, Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein plans to step down once attorney general nominee William Barr is -- if -- confirmed. That could be weeks from now and it could have big implications for the special counsel's probe which was launched, overseen and often defended by Rosenstein.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins us now with much more on that.

So our understanding, Jessica, is that this is a voluntary departure by Rosenstein. Is that right?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Exactly. A source telling our Laura Jarrett that Rosenstein is not being forced out. But as you mentioned, this will have huge implications for the Russia probe because remember this is the deputy attorney general who appointed the special counsel, who oversaw the Russia probe, and who granted broad authority to Robert Mueller.

He is now set to leave the Justice Department as soon as the next attorney general is confirmed. But that will likely be mid-February at the earliest since William Barr's confirmation that kicks off next week and that whole process should stretch at least about four -- three or four weeks. Now that source, of course, stresses to Laura Jarrett that Rosenstein is not being forced out. He's told the White House of his intentions.

And of course we know that Rod Rosenstein previously signaled that he would leave the Justice Department when he was satisfied that Mueller's investigation was either complete or close enough to complete that it was protected. So this really could be a sign that maybe Mueller's investigation is wrapping up or could wrap up in February or March. But of course Rod Rosenstein has had a big impact on this probe, but in the meantime, drawn the ire of the president in the process.

You know, Jim and Poppy, Rod Rosenstein interestingly drafted that memo in August 2017 giving the special counsel these powers to investigate whether or not Paul Manafort colluded with the Russians during the 2016 campaign. And of course after that filing yesterday, we know that his lawyers have admitted that Paul Manafort gave those data points to a Russian operative. So we've seen the fruits of this and we've seen just how big of a role Rod Rosenstein has had in this investigation -- guys.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. Before you go, you know, take us through Rosenstein during his time as deputy AG in terms of the most significant defense he's had to make of the probe. Because we all know that letter, I actually re-read it this morning, that he wrote allowing Mueller to have really a broad purview.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly. And he's been very defensive of the probe while also sticking up for the rule of law. But despite that, it's been a rocky relationship between the president and the deputy AG and it's all because Rosenstein oversaw the probe. Of course he named special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017. And after that the president repeatedly lashed out over Twitter. And despite all of those tweets, Rosenstein really was never deterred. He continued to talk about upholding the rule of law.

And then, of course, September, just a few months ago, those reports emerged that Rosenstein had discussed with other officials wearing a wire to record the conversations with the president and then possibly recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to reprove President Trump from office.

So, Jim and Poppy, we know that Rosenstein denied nose reports. The president then said that he wasn't inclined to fire Rosenstein.

HARLOW: Right.

SCHNEIDER: But now it looks like Rosenstein's time coming to an end, set to leave the Justice Department after William Barr is likely confirmed as AG.

HARLOW: OK. Jessica Schneider, thanks for all the reporting.

Joining us now is former FBI special agent and CNN legal and national security analyst, Asha Rangappa.

One of the key things, Asha, that Jessica just laid out is that -- sort of the terms upon which Rosenstein had previously said that he would leave and that is when he felt that the Mueller investigation was either complete or close to complete and that it was protected. So assuming that remained the sort of threshold for him to be willing to depart, what do you make of the significance of the impending departure in just a few weeks? ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I think

that given that it's a voluntary departure and that, you know, the special counsel was appointed by him and I think he wanted to make sure to see it through at least until it had enough momentum to be able to continue.

You know, I've said repeatedly that this investigation has now gone on so far and the wheels of justice are turning. I don't think there is much that anyone can do to stop it including a new attorney general. And to the extent that many of the facets of it are already now in the justice system, it is protected to a great extent.

[10:05:04] The new attorney general would have to approve a new budget for the special counsel starting in June. Right now it does have a budget through September and then could have some say in some major decisions beyond that. So we'll see what happens.

SCIUTTO: So the nominee for attorney general, Bill Barr, William Barr, who's up on the Hill now meeting with Senate Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. As you're aware he made very critical statements about the special counsel's investigation. He called it grossly irresponsible. On the obstruction side, he said he did not want to indulge the fancies of overzealous prosecutors.

You look at those statements, what difference in your view, as an FBI alum but also a legal scholar, will Barr make as he oversees this probe?

RANGAPPA: Well, his comments definitely raise, you know, concerns in terms of an appearance of bias, for example. And that's not something you ever want to have when you're overseeing an investigation. However, I think that what we've seen is a pattern where everybody who actually gets into the Department of Justice or the FBI like Director Christopher Wray and apparently has seen the information and the evidence that is collected has allowed it to go on and has actually wanted to continue the investigation.

So my opinion is that this is a series investigation that has uncovered either criminal, you know, activity or serious intelligence national security breaches from Russia. And I would be surprised if in the face of that, especially with a prosecutor like Robert Mueller who holds so much respect, that he would really try to stand in the way if there was evidence warranting the investigation continuing.

SCIUTTO: Asha Rangappa, thanks very much as always.

Joining us now is former Maryland deputy AG, Thiru Vignarajah, who began his career as a federal prosecutor under Rod Rosenstein at the U.S. Attorneys' office in Maryland.

Thanks very much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So you say, you've told us that you're disappointed he's leaving. I wonder if you're concerned that his departure threatens the future of this investigation.

VIGNARAJAH: Yes. You know, I certainly hope that this is, in fact, voluntary, but I worry that it's not. Rod Rosenstein has been a career prosecutor, literally a year out of law school he joined the Justice Department and has dedicated every day since to that calling. And I hope that it's because the Mueller investigation is far enough along, but it does inject a level of uncertainty when certainty is already in short supply.

This investigation has been rocky and tumultuous and under fire from the president from day one. And Rod has almost single handedly been the shield to that, and so it is a little bit worrisome that he is leaving before the results of it are public.

HARLOW: So you last spoke to him, as I understand it, about six months ago. And a lot has changed in six months and a lot has stayed the same. He has sort of remained a focus of the president's ire over the probe. Was there anything that indicated to you when you spoke to him six months ago that he was reaching his limit, that he was going to step down? Or did he signify to you I will not leave until the Mueller probe is concluded?

VIGNARAJAH: You know, I should be very clear. Rod is the kind of person who would never speak about that out of turn.

HARLOW: At all.

VIGNARAJAH: And so I can't suggest that he gave any kind of indication. What I can say is this is a guy who survived Republican and Democratic administrations. When Barack Obama became president, he was one of 94 Republican U.S. attorneys in the country. When Barack Obama left the presidency, he was the only Republican U.S. attorney remaining. And that was because he enjoyed bipartisan support.

He had this reputation as an even handed prosecutor who believed in the rule of law above everything else. So I don't -- he's not the kind of person who gets tired of doing the right thing, which is one of the reasons this does give me pause.

HARLOW: That's interesting.

SCIUTTO: You mentioned he was originally Republican appointed, which is important, because the president has dismissed anybody involved in this investigation often as angry Democrats.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you this. Because if Rod Rosenstein is confident that the investigation is far enough along, that it cannot be disrupted or ended at this point, the remaining big question for a sitting attorney general is the release of the report itself. Are you concerned that Barr would be the kind of attorney general that would stand in the way of that?

VIGNARAJAH: Yes. I mean, two things. Just as Asha said before, the fact that Bill Barr has publicly indicated his prejudgment of this investigation is not a good thing. And there's still a lot of things that the sitting attorney general once confirmed could do to impede the investigation, to cast doubt upon it. So I don't love any of that.

The one good thing is not only has he indicated in the past that he wouldn't leave until the Mueller investigation was far enough along, but he's also waited long enough for congressional Democrats to have subpoena power again.

[10:10:06] And, you know, Rod has obviously roots in Baltimore. Elijah Cummings is now going to play a big role in this and so if something --


VIGNARAJAH: -- does go completely south here, we do have the backstop of congressional Democrats having subpoena and investigatory power again which again is a silver lining perhaps to this uncertainty.

HARLOW: Thiru, before you go, for someone you've known or friend, former colleague for a long time, let's talk about his legacy. Do you think that history will treat Rod Rosenstein more kindly than the president?

VIGNARAJAH: You know, he himself has said that history will be the judge of his actions. And I have to think that they will judge him well. He is the noble public prosecutor that we don't have enough of in this country. We've seen so much politicization of prosecutions of the Justice Department. He's sort of the oasis in that desert. And he has literally devoted his entire life to public service, to the Justice Department, to the rule of law and I think that that legacy will endure whatever happens and whatever Donald Trump or Bill Barr does next.

HARLOW: All right. Well, Thiru Vignarajah, thanks for joining us. A really interesting perspective from someone you know well. We appreciate it.

VIGNARAJAH: Thank you, again.

HARLOW: Of course.

A potential bombshell reveal in the Mueller probe. Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort accused of sharing 2016 internal Trump team polling data with a Russian man with links to Russian intelligence. The fallout ahead.

SCIUTTO: The question is why. Plus, the president is heading to Capitol Hill to meet with GOP senators as the shutdown continues. Can he keep support within his own party from cracking?


[10:16:10] SCIUTTO: Thanks to a court filing mistake, we now know that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared 2016 polling data, internal polling data with a Kremlin official, a Russian known to be tied to Russian intelligence and that the special counsel believes that Manafort lied about it. No small thing in the broader investigation of possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia. The allegations coming to light after Manafort's lawyers made a formatting error in a response to charges that Manafort had lied to prosecutors.

HARLOW: Take that in for a moment. The chairman of the president's presidential campaign shared their internal private polling data with a Russian official linked to intelligence who by the way was deeply indebted to a high profile Kremlin linked Russian. And the question becomes, does the president know about it?

Our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is all over this.

Were it not for some sloppy lawyering, these redactions would have actually been redacted. But what we now know Mueller was going to know either way.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. And Mueller has known about this. They confronted Manafort about this. He lied, they say, about it. Of course, his lawyer is saying it's not that he lied, he just simply forgot.

What's important here is that this information was sensitive. It was sensitive to the campaign. It was internal polling data from the 2016 campaign when Paul Manafort was essentially running the campaign. And the big question obviously, Poppy and Jim, is what did the Russians, this information that he gave to this Russian intelligence official, what did the Russians do with this information?

Now keep in mind what was going on around this time in 2016, that the Russians themselves had launched a social media campaign. Of course, several Russians have been charged in connection to that social media campaign. They were using information targeting specific areas of the country to try and essentially help the president, Donald Trump, get elected.

Who this person is that Paul Manafort was supplying that information is well known to the U.S. government. They believe he's a Russian intelligence official. He has himself, Konstantin Kilimnik, who has been a longtime associate of Paul Manafort's. They were in business together. Robert Mueller has even charged him in connection with this case. And the FBI certainly knows him well.

They believe he's part of Russian intelligence. Deep ties into the Russian government, into the Kremlin, and certainly why would he want this information and what did he do with this information is all a big question right now.


HARLOW: It is indeed. Shimon, thanks very much for the reporting.

For more on what this does mean, that key question to the investigation, let's bring in Garrett Graff, who knows just about everything, almost as much as Robert Mueller.


HARLOW: On this front, the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror."

Good morning to you, Garrett. I suppose the key question this morning now that we know this part that the Mueller team knows is whether the president knew about it. Right? Was this done -- did Paul Manafort did this at the behest of the campaign of the president or because he was trying to get in good with a guy that he was deeply indebted to?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. And the answer to that almost ends up being irrelevant for the purposes of the larger question of sort of, did the Trump campaign collude with Russia. Because what you have here is internal information flowing from the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence. And you know, Shimon mentioned this, that Konstantin Kilimnik is well known to the U.S. government, the FBI. And Mueller has said in court documents that they have evidence that Konstantin Kilimnik was engaged with Russian intelligence into 2016.

So we don't know what that evidence is, but Mueller has specific intelligence saying that. And that's presumably going to come out and presumably part of this larger investigation.


[10:20:07] GRAFF: And one of the questions all along is -- has been, you know, Russia was running this coordinated campaign, multifaceted, including information, influence operations and active cyber and attacks on Democratic officials. And how were they getting their American political knowledge.

You know, the people at the Internet Research Agency certainly don't know the ins and outs of what's going to connect with American voters on Facebook. And so, you know, we have all of these mysteries, including why the voters in Michigan and Wisconsin were specifically targeted by the Internet Research Agency.



GRAFF: And this begins to fill in some of those details perhaps.

SCIUTTO: Yes. How did they know where to target in those key swing states here.

HARLOW: I know. Yes.

SCIUTTO: And keep in mind, I mean, what you learned, there was cooperation going on here, right? I mean, at least a sharing of information. But beyond that, multiple conversations about a Ukrainian peace plan favorable to Russian interests, conversations that Manafort had with Kilimnik both during the campaign but also after President Trump was elected. I mean, that's another issue of cooperation, is it not? Because this is something that Russia wanted badly. It wants to get rid of those punishing sanctions as a result of its aggression in Ukraine.

GRAFF: Yes. And remember, you know, none of this, as you're saying, is happening in a vacuum. There's sort of lots of different threads unfolding in this. You know, Michael Cohen is carrying on his discussions about the Trump Tower Moscow project. You have this Ukrainian peace plan that perhaps in this document is the same one that's mentioned later as something that was actually proposed inside the White House.

And, you know, you just sort of keep seeing these subjects come up over what we're now understanding is a much longer time frame than otherwise understood.

HARLOW: Garrett, just one final question on that, though. You know, it's one thing for Paul Manafort to be doing this, right, but it's another thing to prove conspiracy, right, or a coordinated effort, like, meaning, isn't it critical to know if he was ordered to do this or informed then-candidate Trump about these meetings, about this sharing of data? And legally what would that change?

GRAFF: Well, so, I mean, both of you have -- you know, you have the legal question of whether the president knew about it beforehand.

HARLOW: Right.

GRAFF: As well as the question of whether the president knew about it afterwards. And that begins to figure into some of these questions about obstruction of justice, the investigation into Michael Flynn, the lifting of sanctions, the firing of FBI director Jim Comey. I mean, we're seeing these sort of individual puzzle pieces.


GRAFF: And Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein are really the only ones at this point who know how they all fit together.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And listen, the big picture also belies the many claims by the president that there were no conversations, connections with Russia.

HARLOW: Good point.

SCIUTTO: No discussions of business deals, no sharing of information. Well, we're learning that those claims were not true.

Garrett Graff, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, the president set to meet with Senate Republicans as patience is starting to wear thin among even GOP lawmakers, several of them, over the ongoing shutdown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:28:15] HARLOW: All right. A busy day filled with crucial meetings. You have the president heading to Capitol Hill for lunch with Senate Republicans trying to shore up support -- in the cracking support among some Republicans for this border wall fight. Then he will meet with congressional leaders for round three of negotiations.

SCIUTTO: Will we see any progress today? Let's get right to CNN's Manu Raju. He is on Capitol Hill with the latest. You had the big speech last night. Did it move anybody, I suppose, is the question, move the sides closer to agreement?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It did not. Democrats and Republicans are telling me that this morning and the president has his work cut out for him if he believes that this shutdown could go on for some time and he wants to keep his party united mostly behind him because I spent the last day or so talking to a number of Republicans including on the Senate side. And many of them are frankly concerned that if this goes on for some time, that this could be significantly problematic for the economy, for their states, and they need to figure out a way out of this and reopen other agencies not tied to this border fight.

At least three senators right now have called for an end to the shutdown, the latest being Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who told me last night that she's open to opening up every other agency while dealing with the border fight separately. And the other senators also raised concerns in conversations that I've had over the past day. Marco Rubio of Florida said he's potentially open to reopening other agencies, but he wants to see how these bills would be structured first. And Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia also suggesting that she would be open to that as well.

Now I just talked to one congressman. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who said that he too would be open to reopening other federal agencies. He wants to see the bills on their merits. And he called on both sides to come together.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER (D), ILLINOIS: If it is -- again, if it's an agreeable bill, agreeable appropriations, I'll reopen as much government as we can.