Return to Transcripts main page
ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
President Trump: No Emergency Declaration for Now; Interview with Congressman John Garamendi of California; NY Times: FBI Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working On Behalf Of Russia; Rep. Steve King Once More In Hot Water; Rep. Steve King May Face Possible Censure Motion In Wake Of Explosive NY Times Interview; 13- Year-Old Girl Escape After Being Held Captive For Nearly 3 Months; 13- Year-Old Girl Escapes From A Man Accused Of Killing Her Parents. Aired on 8-9p ET
Aired January 11, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: For a president who never met a superlative he didn't like, he has a new one that he promised to own, the longest government shutdown ever.
John Berman here for Anderson.
In just a few hours, that's exactly what Donald Trump will be presiding over. This is the mantle he told Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi he'd take up, although he's now saying the buck stops with everybody, not just him. He actually said that yesterday. The buck stops with everybody.
In fact today, the buck truly stopped, as in the dollars dried up for 800,000 federal workers. Even though the House, the Senate and the president all agreed today on legislation to pay back wages once the shutdown ends, no one is doing much at the moment to actually end it. Instead, Washington has been consumed by the question of whether President Trump would, for better or worse, really, truly pick up the mantle by declaring a national emergency and just take the money to fund the border wall. He's been flirting with the idea for days now.
Today, though, he said not quite yet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'll tell you what, it's the easy way out. But Congress should do this. This is too simple. It's too basic. And Congress should do this.
If they can't do it, if at some point they just can't do it, this is a 15-minute meeting. If they can't do it, I will declare a national emergency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So he's certainly not closing the door on it, but this is a bit of change. When we left it last night the White House was said to be laying the groundwork, the legal groundwork for an emergency declaration, including by using the word "crisis" over and over again at every public opportunity. As for the president, he seemed ready to pull the trigger if not immediately, then certainly soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I have the absolute right to declare a national emergency. I haven't done it yet. I may do it. If this doesn't work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That almost definitely emergency seemed to morph into a maybe, possibly one at some future point in time which is a bit different in tone at least than how he was painting the border situation just this morning on Twitter. He wrote: I just got back and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion. The president tweeted that following his Thursday trip to McAllen, Texas.
Quote: I have been there numerous times. The Democrats, Cryin' Chuck and Nancy don't know how bad and dangerous it is for our entire country.
So keeping them honest, which is it? Is it far worse than almost anyone would understand, an invasion, as he says, or is it just one of those if I don't get what I want emergencies? Just a reminder, the dictionary definition of the word is an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action, or an urgent need for assistance or relief. Which the president seems to be saying it is, even as he's now calling on others, not him to deal with it, in fairness there's nothing especially outlandish that lawmakers do what they're supposed to do, what the Constitution gives them responsibility for, passing legislation to fund the government.
However, the president now seems to be trying to have it both ways, telling Democrats to do their jobs, but threatening to go around Congress entirely if they don't deliver what he wants, which, I suppose, makes it a crisis, a constitutional crisis. But perhaps not an emergency.
Now, on top of all that is where the president may try to get the money after declaring a crisis that critics call a discretionary emergency. As we and others have been reporting, the administration is actively exploring the possibility of funding the wall using money already allocated for recovery from real, undeniable, noncontroversial, you're damn well right they are, emergencies -- money for rebuilding Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, disaster recovery money in Texas, Florida, California, dollars to either rebuild or help prevent the very real disasters, the very real national emergencies you see there on your screen.
The president is eyeing money for that to pay for the wall which may or may not be an emergency, and may or may not be the answer to a crisis which in turn might or might not truly be a crisis. Some of this, as we said, is debatable. And, again, we'll have that debate.
What's beyond dispute, though, is there really is an emergency unfolding as we speak, as the mortgage comes due, the heating bill comes, the groceries run low. And what is soon to be the longest government shutdown drag on.
More now from the White House, CNN's Jim Acosta is there for us tonight.
Jim, what's going on there tonight?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not a whole lot, John. They, over here at the White House, insist they're doing everything they can possible to get this government open.
[20:05:06] But the president was saying earlier today that it's really up to Democrats to come back to the negotiating table.
We saw the president earlier today, and you were just talking about those federal employees who are going to be going without any pay this weekend, you know, it took around 20 or 30 minutes of the president talking during a cabinet room -- earlier this afternoon, and I finally asked the president what was the message to federal employees and he said that he appreciated what they're doing. And he essentially expressed his appreciation for hanging in there. But at the same time he repeated this rather dubious claim that a lot of federal employees support what he's doing, that he's shutting down the government in order to get funding for the wall on the border, at one point going after Democrats on all of this.
He said, listen, Democrats can call the wall peaches if they want to. He said, just give me the money for this wall.
BERMAN: So the president is somewhat walking back his comments about a national emergency. But not ruling it out, correct?
ACOSTA: He's not, John, that's right. I mean, he did say that there is the chance that he could declare a national emergency, essentially he's back to where he was earlier this week, threatening to declare a national emergency down on the border, basically describing that we have an emergency down on the border without pulling this trigger.
The one wrinkle in all of this today, John, was he is essentially saying I know this is going to get challenged in the courts. He was predicting if it does get challenged in the courts, he was saying it's likely to get kicked back in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is sort of have been the bane of his existence going back to the travel ban and so on. But he said ultimately he hopes it will succeed in the Supreme Court.
But it was interesting to hear the president say today in the context of whether or not he should declare a national emergency, he does seem to understand that it would get tied up in the courts, and perhaps prevent him from building that wall, going down that route as well. And so, he seems to be running out of options and I think that's why he was once again trying to paint the situation down on the border as a crisis. He once again said that we're -- that the United States is under attack down at the border when all of the facts really do say otherwise, John.
BERMAN: Are there any plans at this point for the president or any members of Congress for that matter to work on this over the weekend?
ACOSTA: Well, we don't expect a whether or not he will lot of activity on that front. You know, the Senate adjourned, they went home, Congress, a lot of these members of Congress have gone back to their districts. We do think over the weekend there listen phone calls that go on, Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff will probably be in touch with people.
But you saw Lindsey Graham, one of the president's most prominent Republican supporters, advocating that the president go ahead and declare a national emergency and start construction on the wall of the border. But even after Lindsey Graham put out that tweet, the president did not go down that road. So, it is kind of interesting and a curious moment for this White House where the president doesn't seem to have a viable option that they're looking to at this point to get that wall that he wants down on the border, John.
BERMAN: And meanwhile, 800,000 workers got zero on their paycheck today.
Jim Acosta, thanks so much for being with us.
ACOSTA: You bet. True.
BERMAN: Congressman John Garamendi is a Democrat from California, today speaking with Bloomberg News, he called the idea of diverting money from disaster relief to wall building reprehensible. He spoke with us earlier this evening.
Congressman, the president shifting his tone today, saying right now he's not ready to declare a national emergency. Does that ease your concerns at all?
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: No, not at all. This is a guy that has five different opinions from morning until the next day. He shifts back and forth. He's not at all consistent.
But he has been saying for the last week that he's going to declare a national emergency and build the wall. No, we're not going to let that happen. He's not going to go and do that and there will be a heavy price if he even tries to do it.
BERMAN: So, I understand that if the president does decide to do it, and you say you think he will, you have legislation prepared to stop him. How does this legislation work? Does this go to his power to declare a national emergency, or is it more targeted than that?
GARAMENDI: My legislation would be much more targeted, it goes directly at the authority that may exist today for the president to declare a national emergency, and then go after the money that Congress has already authorized and appropriated for civil works across the United States. These are levees. These are airports. These are operations, dredging operations, things of that sort. We'd simply repeal that section of the law.
BERMAN: He couldn't get the money. He could declare the emergency, but he couldn't get the money for it.
GARAMENDI: Exactly. I would expect others to pass legislation or attempt to that would curtail the ability of the president to declare a national emergency which in and of itself is a major problem for our constitutional civil rights.
BERMAN: And will be challenged in the courts.
BERMAN: Now, when the president talks about taking money away from disaster relief funding, and that is under consideration right now.
[20:10:04] Can you explain what impact that would have on your district?
GARAMENDI: It would be terribly, terribly serious, the disaster recovery money that was allocated last spring in the appropriation process is absolutely necessary to shore up the levies in the Sacramento region. And for one of our communities that has 35 foot levees all around it, within moments of a break in the levies, that entire community of 14,000 people would be inundated in water that is very, very cold.
There would be numerous, numerous deaths. So it's a very serious problem of life, death and obviously property.
BERMAN: And this isn't hypothetical, exactly. You were able to get some of the documents which list the specific projects being reviewed by the administration as it considers where to go after this funding?
GARAMENDI: Absolutely. It's publicly available. On the Army Corps websites, there's all of the projects that the 2018 emergency appropriations for disaster recovery would be used for. They're laid out there. Most of these projects are going to go to bid and contract over the next few months.
All of those are subject to the presidential whims. But we do know that specifically targeted were the projects in California, $2.5 billion as well as Puerto Rico, another $2.5 billion.
BERMAN: Congressman, what's your message to the 800,000 people who did not get paid today, government workers who had zero on their paychecks given there were no negotiations as we speak to end the shutdown?
GARAMENDI: We're trying. We've been trying since the new Congress was established, since the Democrats came into power last Thursday. That night, we passed legislation that would reopen the government, send it over to the Senate. The Senate is sitting there, I suppose, waiting for it to hatch.
The ball is in the Senate's court. The president says he'll veto it. So there's where the problem lies right there.
We're willing to continue to discuss this matter about how to wisely, appropriately, using the taxpayer money to secure the southern border.
BERMAN: Congressman Garamendi, thanks so much for being with us.
GARAMENDI: My pleasure. Thank you.
BERMAN: Two views now on whether what's happening is a crisis as the president says and whether the wall is the right answer. These are two highly informed assessments from individuals with more direct experience on the subject than most of us will ever have. Yet, they disagree.
Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, who's done extensive reporting from both sides of the border, and Mark Morgan who ran Border Patrol for the last six months of the Obama administration and does support building a wall.
Jorge, I wonder what goes through your mind when you hear it's possible that the president might use disaster relief funds to pay for this wall.
JORGE RAMOS, UNIVISION ANCHOR: It would be completely absurd. Can you imagine the victims of Puerto Rico, the victims of hurricanes in Texas or in Florida, or the victims of fires and flooding in California, paying for a wall? A wall that is useless, that we don't need it right now when we don't have a real crisis, when it's a manufactured crisis, it would be completely ludicrous. And it's something that we should not do simply because someone, a politician, some point in his career he decided to promise a wall that we really don't need at this moment.
BERMAN: All right. Now, Mark, I know you do support building a wall, which we will talk about extensively. But first, do you support using disaster relief funds to do so?
MARK MORGAN, FORMER BORDER PATROL CHIEF UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this is what I know. And for 30 years of federal governmental service I can tell you what we absolutely have on the southern border is a national security and humanitarian crisis.
Last year, 400,000, a little less than 400,000 illegal aliens were apprehended, and that's just the ones we apprehended. I think the statistics could show we could easily double that and look at the numbers that we apprehended, illegal aliens.
Take into consideration as well the facts are, and this is true, human trafficking routes are alive and well, drug smuggling routes through the southern border are alive and well. There are really bad people that are illegally entering this country every single day. That's real. That crisis has to be addressed.
BERMAN: And I'm going to give Jorge a chance to respond to that.
RAMOS: There's no crisis. It's a manufactured crisis. When we're talking about crisis, we're talking about something like the war in Iraq, or 9/11. As you know, there are about 700 miles of wall, physical barriers already between Mexico and the United States. And those were created, those were built after 9/11. That's a real crisis, not what Donald Trump and his followers are trying to promote right now.
And then, Mr. Morgan, where is the crisis? At this moment we have some of the safest communities in the country are along the border.
[20:15:01] At this moment, the number of undocumented immigrants has remained stable. As a matter of fact, it fell back to 10.7 million. And we really don't need a wall at this moment.
BERMAN: Mark, hang on one second.
RAMOS: I don't see the possibility of a crisis at this moment.
BERMAN: Jorge Ramos, Mark Morgan, stick around. We're going to pick this up after the break.
Just ahead, though, we're going to speak to an air traffic controller who got 3 bucks and change in his paycheck today, which is 3 bucks and change more than his wife, who is also an air traffic controller. How are they making ends meet and what does he think of the president's claim that folks are happy to go to the fiscal mattresses to pay for his wall.
Later, a congressman tries to explain his racist remarks that some of his GOP colleagues aren't buying it. Hear what Steve King said and decide for yourself as 360 continues.
BERMAN: We're talking about the president's wall, the invasion he spoke of again today, the crisis that either is or isn't, and in a larger sense, whether a wall or the kind the president envisions would even work.
[20:20:06] We're back now with Mark Morgan and Jorge Ramos.
Mark, I just want to give you a chance to respond to what Jorge said before the break. And also, if you will, answer the question about the idea of funding the wall through disaster relief funds from either Puerto Rico, North Carolina, Florida or Texas.
MORGAN: Well, with all due respect to Jorge, he's absolutely, 100 percent incorrect. When you look at years along the southwest border that are doing well, that are prosperous and safe, that is due to a multilayered strategy of infrastructure, technology and personnel. That is due to the hard working men and women of the United States Border Patrol who are protecting the borders every single day.
We saw a television, past couple of days, walking along a wall talking about how tranquil it is. Well, it's tranquil because there's a wall there. If you look at San Diego, and there are cities in San Diego, on either side, those towns are prosperous now and they're prosperous because there's a wall there. That's a fact.
And the fact is, that the crisis comes from -- we talk about in this country having an opioid epidemic in this country. Well, where do you think a lot of the drugs are coming from? From south of the border, that's a crisis. Human trafficking, that is real. That's not manufactured. That's not made up.
Jorge, let me finish. Let me finish. You're wrong, that is real. Human trafficking, there are kids, women, girls that are being trafficked into this country, that are being forced into sexual exploitation. That is real. You cannot say that's real. That is not manufactured.
If you do, you are lying and misleading the American people.
RAMOS: It's a manufactured crisis.
BERMAN: Go ahead, Jorge.
RAMOS: It's a manufactured crisis. Let me address the issues you mentioned. First of all, the drugs. You are -- what you are saying is not true because the vast majority of the seizures of drugs in this country happen at legal ports of entry, not along the border. So that has absolutely nothing to do with walls.
MORGAN: That's a false narrative, Jorge. That's a false narrative.
RAMOS: I'm sorry, the number of arrests --
MORGAN: That's wrong.
RAMOS: The number of arrests we've had in the last few years are among the lowest in the last 20 years. And if you are right, how come, out of the nine members of Congress who represent districts along the U.S./Mexico border how come not a single one of them support the idea of a wall?
So, where is the crisis? Again, I'm really open to listen to you.
MORGAN: I just did, Jorge. Jorge, I just did, I just gave you facts. Human trafficking, that is real, this is not a crisis that's manufactured.
Drugs, you talked about drugs coming into the ports of entry, why don't we talk about the stuff --
RAMOS: Legal ports of entry.
MORGAN: What about the stuff that we don't know what's coming in through the southern borders between the points of entry. So, it's not just a crisis in between the points of entry, it's a crisis on the southern border.
We have a lot of drugs coming in in between the points of entry and we have a lot of drugs coming in in between the points of entry. That's real, that's not manufactured, and that's leading to the opioid crisis that we have in this United States. That's real.
What do you tell the young women and children that are being trafficked -- Jorge, let me finish. What do you tell the young women being trafficked into this United States by the drug cartels being sexually exploited? What do you tell them? You tell them it's not a crisis?
BERMAN: Let me jump in here. First of all, Mark, the statistics that we get from the government itself is that the majority of drugs being smuggled in are through the legal points of entry. Those are the government statistics we are citing.
Just so people know about what the statistics where they come from.
Jorge, my question to you, though, is President Trump is not the first president to ask for funding. Both President Bush and President Clinton asked for border fence funding. President Obama funded the maintenance of some 700 miles of barrier that already exists.
So, why is this request from President Trump different?
RAMOS: I think that's a fascinating question. You're absolutely right, three U.S. presidents, George Bush Sr., Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, all of them approved walls and fences, Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress have approved walls and fences. So, wow come we don't want Trump to build his own wall?
The reason is very simple. First, because it's useless. Second because there's not a national emergency like 9/11, when the walls were built. And third, this is really important, I think Donald Trump has created a symbol for many people, the wall is a symbol of racism. And many members of Congress simply cannot --
MORGAN: That's absolutely false.
RAMOS: -- go back to the districts and ask for money -- ask for money for a symbol of racism, hate and discrimination.
And politically, for Democrats it's simple to say that Donald Trump is not going to deliver on his signature issue, and then promise something completely different for 2020. Those are the reasons why I think right now many members of Congress are not going to approve a wall.
BERMAN: Mark, has the president made your argument harder to deliver?
[20:25:00] MORGAN: I don't think so, because there's a couple important factors. First of all, Jorge, it's absolutely a false narrative. Anybody who says, anybody who talks to the American people and said that walls are ineffective, they're lying to the American people.
Look at the facts and statistics. Look at Nogales, look at San Diego, look at El Paso.
MORGAN: Jorge, let me finish. I let you finish. That's absolutely a false narrative. You know, the sheriff for Yuma County in Arizona just came out a newspaper article this week that said in 2005, when they used the multilayer strategy of infrastructure, technology and personnel to the right levels in his area, he saw illegal immigration drop 90 percent. He saw overall crime in his area dropped dramatically. And that's one story of a hundred across this country.
And to your point, you're spot on, in 2006, the Secure Fence Act was approved, a bipartisan bill that led to 720 miles of fence. And, Jorge, I challenge you, go back and listen to the sound bites of a bipartisan Senate and Congress, including presidents from the Democratic side of the House, that said exactly the same thing that's being said why we need this wall, exactly word for word was said back then. That the president is saying right now.
RAMOS: We don't need more walls, Mr. Morgan.
MORGAN: That's a lie. That's a lie.
BERMAN: Ten seconds, Jorge. We got to go.
RAMOS: Let me just give you a statistic. On almost half of all undocumented immigrants, come by plane or with a visa. We don't need walls for that.
BERMAN: All right. Jorge Ramos, Mark Morgan, we're about to lose our satellite. I thank you both gentlemen for being with us. Nice discussion.
MORGAN: Thank you.
RAMOS: Thank you.
BERMAN: A lot more to get to on a busy Friday night. Amid all of the back and forth, where exactly is Senate Majority Mitch McConnell in all of this? Find out ahead.
[20:30:05] BERMAN: We have breaking news at this moment on just how concerned, even freaked out, law enforcement was when President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The "New York Times" has a story that just posted minutes ago, and let me read you the opening paragraph. It says, in the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the President's behavior that they began investigating on whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests. That's according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
Adam Goldman shares the by line. He joins us now by phone. Adam, this is an issue of there being a criminal investigation. And tonight, I think for the first time, correct me if I'm wrong, your reporting is that there was a counterintelligence investigation into whether the President of the United States was a threat to the United States.
ADAM GOLDMAN, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, essentially that's correct. When the FBI started investigating President Trump in the days after Comey was fired there were two elements, essentially to the investigation, one was a criminal element that dealt with the possibility of obstruction, and the other was the counterintelligence element to this. And, you know, I think while broadly people had assumed that, you know, Mueller was looking at whether the President himself had in some way conspired or colluded with the Russians, you know, nobody had ever laid out exactly what happened. That's what we sought to do with this story.
BERMAN: What exactly is, define a counterintelligence investigation, just so our viewers understand.
GOLDMAN: The essence of a counterintelligence investigation is something that's a threat to national security. And typically these investigations are done quietly, clandestinely. And many, many times they don't lead to criminal charges. And the methods that the FBI uses to try to understand what an adversary might do is highly classified and you don't see them and, you know, typically, you know, brought out in Article 3 or civilian court.
BERMAN: Why is the idea of a counterintelligence investigation into the President of the United States, why would that information be so controversial, and why did they work so hard to keep it quiet?
GOLDMAN: Well, I think they worked really hard to keep it quiet because they wanted to understand, hey, look, the way these things are supposed to work is we're not supposed to find out about it. OK. That the FBI investigated somebody, has a counterintelligence investigation, maybe they suspect, you know, an individual might be working for Russia, they investigate, they do it quietly, then it goes away, just like they did with Carter Page, you know, years ago in New York.
And so the idea is that, you know, the FBI can do the investigation, nobody hears about it and maybe the person isn't working for a hostile -- you know, a hostile country. And, you know, they close the case and move on. You know, in this case, everything became public.
GOLDMAN: So it was much more -- it was much more difficult for the FBI to try to do what they needed to do here. But, you know, there were a couple things that pushed the FBI over the edge, and I think it's been lost on people is that the obstruction in -- the possible obstruction relating to the firing Comey need an object -- the obstruction has to have an object and the object was the investigation into Russian interference in 2016, that is a national security investigation.
BERMAN: And it --
GOLDMAN: So as -- yes. BERMAN: And there were two episodes. There were -- and remember how chaotic the period was following the firing of James Comey. There were two specific episodes that alarmed some of these security officials and FBI agents in the wake of that. Explain what they were.
GOLDMAN: Well, obviously that the firing of Comey and the referencing of the Russia investigation and the President later (ph) laying out why Comey should be fired. The second aspect to that was the -- I believe it was the next day, the Lester Holt interview on NBC News, he says he did it because of Russia. And, you know, the FBI is watching this, and they say, well, he's telling us why he did it. You know, he did this on behalf of Russia.
And, you know, within days of that they've opened up this -- you know, they've opened up this -- they've opened up this multi-tiered investigation that has -- you know, that has a criminal aspect and a counterintelligence aspect to it.
BERMAN: And then when the President had the Oval Office meeting with the Russian ambassador, I believe it was, where he bragged about firing James Comey and called him a nut job, that was in their minds a vindication for the investigation?
GOLDMAN: Yes, a vindication, you know, bolstered their reasons. You know, the FBI, they opened this investigation, needed to articulate the reasons, the information for doing it. You know, and then this comes out about that meeting where he's calling Comey a nut job, and, you know, he says this took great pressure out of me, you know, the end of Comey. You know, that itself, was -- the people working on the investigation saw that as reaffirmation of the reasons to open on the President.
[20:35:02] BERMAN: Just two more, very quickly. Number one, a counterintelligence investigation indicates that they were investigating whether the President was a threat, a security and intelligence threat to the United States, that's extraordinary. But just finally, there are those within the community, you write about this.
GOLDMAN: Well I want to clarify something.
BERMAN: Go ahead.
GOLDMAN: They investigate -- and this is what Jim Baker the former (INAUDIBLE) they testified, and it goes to a hearing and we had some of his testimony and just to like, and to be clear, it's whether the President's actions were a threat.
GOLDMAN: Right? It's not -- it's not -- it's not that -- I don't think anybody is convinced that the President did this on behalf of Russia, you know, fired Comey. But, you know, but, you know, they had the -- but the act of firing, the simple act of firing Comey, you know --
BERMAN: Got you.
GOLDMAN: -- Jim Baker told Congress that was considered a threat to national security.
BERMAN: Is it clear whether the counterintelligence investigation was ever wrapped up?
GOLDMAN: I don't know if that's the case to date. We say that in the story. I'm sure it's something Mueller, you know, if he writes a report, it's likely that's something he could explain.
BERMAN: Right. Adam Goldman, if you will, please stick around with us. I want to also bring in CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers is with us as well, and on the phone, FBI supervisor special agent Josh Campbell who served as a special assistant to Director Comey.
Dana, first to you on this. And this gets to the article references this point. There are many within the intelligence community, and certainly within the President's orbit who say that this and other things represent serious overreach by the FBI.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Potentially. And, you know, I obviously would love to hear Josh's response to that since he was not only working for the FBI, but working for James Comey. Look, I think what is really an unknown here -- well, let's just take a step back. This is very explosive.
BASH: And it's obvious why the FBI did not want anybody to know about this, at all. The notion, as you were getting to with Adam, of investigating a President of the United States to see if an American President is working for the Russians is just -- it just -- it's almost too much to wrap your mind around. Having said that, we don't know what happened. We don't know how quickly it wrapped up, if it's wrapped up. And obviously it's connected to the much larger Robert Mueller investigation. This is before --
BASH: It seems as though the FBI started this before Robert Mueller was appointed by Rod Rosenstein.
BERMAN: And Mueller took it over and merged to an extent we believe --
BERAMAN: -- the counterintelligence and the criminal investigations. Josh Campbell, you were there at the time, first of all, explain to us or verify what you can about this reporting.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes. So John, I have to be obviously very careful with information that I talk about, that I knew when I was in the FBI. As you mentioned, you know, working for Director Comey, you know, after he was fired I continued on in my role as a special assistant to the director. So, again I mention that just to say that any FBI employee takes an oath that they won't divulge certain things.
But I will say, though, as we kind of speaking hypothetically about the mechanics and the impact of such an investigation, I think first of all it's important for the viewer to understand the mechanics. So for the FBI to open an investigation of any kind, the threshold is actually quite low. You need information or an allegation that there's been some type of violation of federal law, which is a very low threshold. You can't go on fishing expeditions. You have to have something, you know, concrete to point to.
But again, investigations are just that, your gathering information in order to get to the bottom of what happened. So if you look at the impact here, and again let's take ourselves back in time to that place where you had the FBI director who -- or excuse me, the President of the United States who was removing the FBI director, the person who was investigating him, which he knew about, because Comey was on the record in public testimony indicating that he was investigating the Trump campaign, this was obviously something that the President knew about and people inside the FBI knew there was this Russia investigation, the deputy attorney general himself knew that Russia was on the President's mind when he got rid of Comey.
So as you start to piece together these -- you know, these elements of the puzzle, it is beyond the possibility that people inside the FBI would say is there a problem here as it relates to national security? And that's their job in order to get to the bottom of that. And, you know, to snuff out any type of threat.
The one thing that I think we have to also understand is that the FBI when it comes to the President of the United States, or any type of elected official, there's actually a special category for those types of cases. They're called sensitive investigative matters. And what that means, and again, you know, that's terminology, but what that means is that if you have a certain threshold of case that involves a politician or a lawyer or a member of the clergy, a protected class, those required the highest levels of approval from the Department of Justice.
[20:40:10] So this isn't something that the FBI would open on its own, and then send over some type of notice. This would require coordination with the Department of Justice, which is stunning when you think about it because the one person who remains, to this day, who was there at that time was Rod Rosenstein, it was the Deputy Attorney General, and obviously he's taken a lot of slings and arrows, you know, from the President, but he's actually stood up to a lot of these threats from the White House and a lot of the criticism. But if you go back in that time the only person who was still there, or who is still here now that would have been there at that time, who would have known about that was the deputy attorney general.
So as you look at the larger picture, I agree with Dana and I agree with you, John, this is a big deal when you think about the President of the United States being under FBI investigation. I don't know if there's any time in, you know, our lifetime or, indeed, in the history of the country where federal law enforcement looked down to the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and thought at least that possibly the actions of the President might threaten U.S. national security.
BERMAN: The actions of the President might threaten U.S. national security. That is what we have learned in this "New York Times" reporting. And Kirsten, a sitting U.S. President in that type of investigation, I've got to say this is a strange place to be, even after all these months of this investigation, it's a startling sentence to read out loud.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's absolutely -- it's shocking. And as Josh just said it's hard -- it's hard to imagine that this has happened before. And, you know, I think for everybody who watched this play out publicly, obviously there was a lot of criticism and a lot of concern about what was going on, but as Josh has pointed out the FBI is expert on this issue. So it's very different for us to sit and watch it and say this doesn't -- this doesn't look right and this is very concerning. For the FBI to look at it and say that we think this President might be a national security threat, he might be working on behalf of a foreign government, either wittingly or unwittingly is really -- it's explosive to say the least. And I'm sure that the -- that Trump defenders are going to say that this is just proof that the FBI was out to get him.
But I think go back to Josh, he laid out very clearly that this is not something that they can do, easily because it's the President of the United States.
BERMAN: And I will note in Adam's piece he does talk about the idea that people have made accusations of overreach. The defense in the story is that the FBI, these agents, these people, sources he's spoken to say you don't know what we knew at that time. The information we had isn't public. You don't know that.
Dana, the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani is trying to play this down, as he does. He also confesses he actually has no insight into the investigation.
BASH: Right. I mean, he wouldn't know. I mean, it is his job, as somebody who represents the President to do just that, to play it down. And to suggest, as he did in the story, that, well, it doesn't seem that anything came out of it. So who cares? Well, again, that's his job. But he also doesn't really know what went on.
You know, the question is, yes, there are accusations and there will be larger and louder accusations of FBI overreach at the time. But I think what Josh said is really, really noteworthy, that when it comes to a run of the mill FBI investigation you can do whatever you want. Not whatever you want. You need to have -- the threshold is low. But for somebody who is important, you need something more than that. And I would guess that the President of the United States would be -- it's about as tough as it could be and should be to open this kind of investigation into which tells you that they really did have reasonable doubt or cause to at least look into it. BERMAN: Just to be clear, Josh, what you're telling us is that the
Justice Department at the highest levels would have had to approve, Jeff Sessions of course, was recused at that point, had recused himself so that would have meant that Rod Rosenstein would have had to approve of this type of investigation?
CAMPBELL: That's exactly right. And I can tell you, if you haven't been in the FBI for example when we had Congress people, Members of Congress under investigation, or any type of elected official, I mean that would be something that the bureau by policy, by Justice Department policy would coordinate with the Justice Department. You can bet that if it involved the President of the United States, the highest official in the executive branch of government, that that would be something that the FBI would coordinate.
And looking ahead, John, I think it's very important that we understand that, again, it's important to take yourself back to that place in time where you have the FBI concerned, according to the reporting, about what the actions of the President might actually -- you know, what challenges or threats that that might represent to the nation. They didn't know at the time that there would be a Bob Mueller investigation, that there would be a special counsel investigation.
So, according to the reporting, as they opened this case, again they, you know, probably looked at themselves and thought this is the vehicle that will be used to determine whether the President removed the FBI director for purposes of obstruction, and if there are any outlying national security threats. And the reason why that's important to talk about now is because all of that got folded into the Robert Mueller investigation.
[20:45:13] BERMAN: Right. Go ahead, Dana?
CAMPBELL: So it's very opaque, we don't know a lot about what he's doing, but we can bet that that would be one part of that.
BASH: And, you know, as Josh is talking, as we're kind of digesting this information, it makes you realize why Rod Rosenstein got the special counsel in the first place. If Josh -- the way Josh describes the protocol is accurate, and I'm sure it is, that it has to go to the highest levels of the Justice Department, that was Rod Rosenstein because Jeff Sessions had already recused himself. I believe at that time, or he was in the process of. It's more evidence and more of an explanation of why Rosenstein said, OK, this is something that we have to separate from. Because of the allegations of, you know, maybe retribution from FBI agents because their boss was fired.
BASH: Or whatever reason, you've got to separate it.
BERMAN: If there's a counterintelligence investigation into the President of the United States you can understand why there's a special counsel.
BERMAN: You can understand why someone like Robert Mueller is need. Rod Rosenstein, of course, we have learned is stepping down which made many people believe, Kirsten, and I'll give you the last word on this, that the Mueller investigation is coming to a close. I have to say as January progresses, as we learn more and more things, including the Michael Cohen testimony before Congress, it seems to me we are headed into a pretty, pretty eventful period.
POWERS: Yes, I mean we've heard that many times about this just being around the corner, getting wrapped up. And so I think there's obviously more to come. And I just think that we -- this -- we can't stress enough, what a big story this is, frankly. And to think about the fact that we generally would make an assumption about a President of the United States that we know which side they're on, that we don't have the FBI wondering whether or not they are working for a foreign power, like I said either knowingly or unknowingly, as the reporting says, is just an absolutely shocking thing, I think, and says a lot about President Trump.
BERMAN: Josh, very last question, we're running out of time here before we go, you said actually the bar is fairly low to start asking these types of questions. Would it just be the action of the President, the firing of James Comey, the mentioning of Russia in a Lester Holt interview that would cause an investigation, or would there have to be other intelligence pickups, other causes for concern that Russia might have some level of influence on the President?
CAMPBELL: So it becomes very important for an FBI agent, one of the phrases, the mantras they use is you have to have specific and articulable facts. So you can't just have a hunch that an agent had has, or you know some type of hearsay, possibly someone told you in order to open up a serious, you know, investigation like this would be. You have to be able to articulate what it actually is. And again, in this case, if the agents looked across the horizon and saw all the different threats they were looking at, they saw the actions of the President and started piecing that altogether, that could have been enough to say we're at least going to look into this.
I think it's important to say, even though I just mentioned that this would require the highest levels of approval from the Department of Justice, it is also important to understand that FBI investigations often wash out and there is no there, there, this is the reason why the FBI does this work in secret is because a lot of the times, you know, if you get information about a possible crime, that doesn't actually pan out, you don't want to negatively, you know, impact someone's reputation.
But, again, we don't know if that's the case here because we can bet that that would have been folded into what Mueller is doing. We'll just have to wait and see what that report is and whether that actually talks about the bombshell reporting we're seeing tonight.
BERMAN: All right, Josh Campbell, Dana Bash, Kirsten Powers, thank you all so much helping us digest this, something we literary saw about 30 seconds before we came back from a commercial there, a big story breaking tonight.
Next, Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King, he is no stranger to hot water, coming up, why his latest episode threatens him with possible cincture in the House of Representatives, that and what he said about it today on the House floor.
[20:51:03] BERMAN: As the government remains shutdown over the immigration debate, one of the loudest anti-immigration voices in Congress finds himself in some very hot water over some recent comments. Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King wondered aloud to the "New York Times" earlier this week why, in his words, and I'm quoting, white nationalists, white supremacists, western civilization, how did that language become offensive? Unquote.
Democratic House member Tim Ryan says he is considering offering a formal resolution censuring King for his remarks. For his part, King took to the House floor today and responded.
REP. STEVE KING, (R) IOWA: I regret the heartburn that has poured forth upon this Congress and this country and especially my state and in my congressional district. But the people who know me know I wouldn't have to even make this statement because they do know me. They know my life, they know my history. They know that I have lived in the same place since 1978. There's nothing about my family or my history or my neighborhood that would suggest that these false allegations could be supported by any activity whatsoever.
I reject that ideology. I defend American civilization, which is an essential component of western civilization.
BERMAN: All right. Joining me now is Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.
Representative, thanks so much for being with us. I will ask you about Steve King in one moment. Just on the breaking news we heard moments ago, "The New York Times" reporting that the FBI back when the President fired James Comey opened a counterintelligence investigation out of concern that his actions were a security threat to the United States. Your reaction?
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, (D) DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Have we forgotten that for a very long time now, Trump has seemed to be at one with the Russians. He's been accused of being too close to the Russians in the first place. And that's Democrats who, of course, were have been criticizing him and remember when he stood beside -- when he took that press conference and indicated that he didn't see that Putin had done anything.
So, I mean, if you put all of this together, and that is not what got the FBI interested in this, you will see why I'm not surprised. BERMAN: All right. Again, we're still digesting that report tonight. Back to Steve King, the congressman from Iowa. Your reaction to his initial statement. This is someone you've known in the House for a long time. Were you surprised when he said, I don't know why white supremacist is an offensive word?
NORTON: I was not surprised, because he's had a very long line of this kind of rhetoric and of close association, not only in this country, but in Europe, with white nationalists. He's going so far this time that while a censure resolution is almost surely going to be put on the floor of the House, you see members of his own party, what I think is -- amounts to trying to get him out. He won his election by only 2,500 points. That's because this is not new, because it follows a very long line of white supremacy, white nationalism, perhaps not as overt as this, but always there and always undisguised.
So now what you're seeing is, he's got a primary challenger already. He may get another one. You see the top three leaders of the House, scalding criticism of him. So what I think you're seeing is Republicans are understanding they're not going to hold on to this seat. The only -- only by three points did --
BERMAN: You're right.
NORTON: -- did King retain the seat. So I think they're trying to force him out himself before Democrats take this seat and they vary Republican district.
BERMAN: Would you support a censure vote? And again, do you think Republicans are doing enough? Senator Tim Scott made a really, really powerful statement today in the op-ed in "The Post" condemning these words.
[20:55:04] NORTON: Not only would I support a censure vote, Democrats control the House, I think that a censure vote would easily pass the House of Representatives.
BERMAN: Eleanor Holmes Norton, thank you so much for being with us, and really appreciate your time tonight on a variety of subjects.
NORTON: Always a pleasure.
BERMAN: All right. Let's check in with Chris Cuomo to see what he's working on for "CUOMO PRIME TIME" at the top of the hour. Maybe it's changed over the last few minutes.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, what we've learned from "The New York Times" that I saw in your show, you guys handled well and quickly, really falls into what we're getting very deep into on the show tonight.
We've had three aspects of the Mueller probe come to light in the last few days, and they all worked together. We've learned that the probe is looking at public statements of the President as probative in their criminal case of obstruction of justice. That will be surprising to many people, that the President's public statements may count in that case. That goes along with what "The New York Times" just told us now.
And the big point here is that we always knew about the criminal case, the obstruction of justice involving the President, potentially, but not the counterintelligence element. And not that early on they were looking at him. And that creates an urgency and a focus that we didn't know about in the probe in terms of what its ultimate story is. That takes us to the third point. They don't want us to see that story, JB. The lawyers of the President want to look at it first and play with it? No way, not on our watch, we've got to fight that.
BERMAN: All right. Chris Cuomo, thanks so much. We'll see you in a few minutes.
Coming up, 13-year-old Jayme Closs escapes after being held captive for nearly three months in a remote area of Wisconsin. What investigators are saying about the suspect in a moment. But first, a quick look at a CNN Original Series premiering this Sunday, "American Style."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Kennedy had a style of a kind of wealthy upper class New England person. So was more casual than the sort of typical ruling class person.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Kennedy carried himself with simple style. It was never over thought. It was very much with ease.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Style matters with Jack Kennedy. And his style is grace under pressure. He defines cool.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Kennedy's youth, his sartorial excellence, his great physique were all differentiators, I will say, from prior presidents. He looked fantastic.
BERMAN: Jayme is the hero in this case. That's what a sheriff from Wisconsin said today, a day after 13-year-old Jayme Closs escaped the house where she was allegedly held captive for nearly three months by a man also suspected of killing her parents back in October. Closs is now with her aunt, according to the sheriff.
The 21-year-old suspect is in custody facing two counts of homicide and one count of kidnapping. It's unknown how he became aware of the 13-year-old girl, but authorities say nothing shows he knew or had contact with the family before.
The news continues, so I now hand it over to Chris Cuomo. "CUOMO PRIME TIME" starts now.