Return to Transcripts main page


FBI Opened Probe on Trump; U.S. Government Shutdown Longest in Nation's History; Yellow Vest Protests; Jayme Closs Found Alive; Prospect of No Deal Sets Britain on Edge. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2019 - 03:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Explosive report: "The New York Times" reveals the FBI launched a counter intelligence investigation to determine whether President Trump had acted against American interests on Russia's behalf.

21 days, three hours and 17 seconds, the partial U.S. government shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history and there's no end in sight.

More Yellow Vest protests in France. The anti-government movement is picking up steam as the French president prepares to launch a national debate.

We're live from the CNN Center here in Atlanta. I'm Cyril Vanier. Great to have you with us.


VANIER: "The New York Times" published a story that they say could have explosive implications. "The Times" report said back in 2017, just days after President Trump fired then FBI director James Comey, the bureau became concerned that the president may be acting on behalf of Russia.

So they investigated the president, not his allies or advisors or campaign, but the president himself because of concerns that he may be acting against U.S. interests. It was Mr. Trump's behavior after he fired Comey reportedly that prompted the bureau to open the counter intelligence investigation.

"The Times" reports investigators had to determine whether Mr. Trump's actions threatened national security and whether his firing of Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

The paper also reports Mr. Trump's comments in which he appeared to tie Comey's firing to the Russia investigation help prompt the counter intelligence aspect of this inquiry. The White House has been quick to respond.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders writes, "This is absurd. James Comey was fired because he's a disgraced partisan hack and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar, fired by the FBI."

Joining me to discuss all of this, Linda Feldmann. She's the Washington bureau chief at "The Christian Science Monitor." She's also "The Monitor's" former Moscow bureau chief. That's worth noting for this conversation.

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

Asha, how big a deal is "The New York Times" report?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's a very big deal. I did cover intelligence investigations in the FBI. And what you're doing in a counter intelligence investigation is investigating threats to national security.

You're looking at people that may be assisting or facilitating intelligence operations that are being -- you know -- done by foreign intelligence services. In this case, the FBI believed that the president of the United States, the sitting President of the United States may be allowing Russia to continue or maybe -- may be helping it cover up its activities within the United States.

I think that is a serious concern that adds a lot to what we already know about the criminal side of the investigation.

VANIER: Linda, the emotional impact politically of this piece of the puzzle, that the FBI was looking directly at Mr. Trump and it had to do with U.S. national security and he may or may not have been working for Russia, that's just -- just even saying those words, that's a lot.

LINDA FELDMANN, "THE CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST MONITOR": It is a lot. I can just imagine the reactions from the president. I'm sure he's composing the witch hunt tweets right now. This coming amid the government shutdown and the stress over the wall, this is yet another kind of bombshell report, an extraordinary moment in American history to have the president -- have -- you know, intelligence, the FBI of this country look into whether the president of the United States was working for a foreign government.

VANIER: Asha, how would you open or would the FBI open an investigation like this into a president?

The timeline for this is early 2017, shortly after the president fired James Comey, former FBI director. So he was president.

RANGAPPA: He was a sitting president. I would believe the bar would be very high. The FBI operates under something called the attorney general guidelines. These are rules that were put in place in the late '70s after Congress exposed a lot of FBI abuses under J. Edgar Hoover --

[03:05:00] RANGAPPA: -- where he was spying on politicians and civil rights activists. So there are these rules that were put into place to make sure that the FBI did the things the right way.

As a result of those guidelines, anything that touches First Amendment activity, people that are journalists, politicians, clergymen, they're given extra protection. You have to have almost a higher threshold to open an investigation on them.

So when you take that, combined with the fact that this is a person who is sitting President of the United States, I believe the bar would have been very high and the FBI would have had to have had a very -- a very, you know, compelling predicate, which is what it is called in the FBI, to open such an investigation.

VANIER: Linda, following the threat of "The New York Times" report, I want to make this clear to our viewers, we at this point in time don't know what became of that investigation. We know it was taken over by Mueller but in terms of its conclusions.

FELDMANN: That's right. I think there needs to be a broader context here. Going back to during the campaign, Donald Trump didn't really think he would be elected president. We know he long harbored a dream of building a big building in Moscow. He's long wanted to do business with the Russians. He's also admired Vladimir Putin. I think when he became president, this really friendly posture toward Putin and toward Russia continued.

But it doesn't mean he was working for the Russians. As you said, we don't know the conclusion of the investigation. I think we have to -- before we really get into some wild conspiracy theories about collusion which have not been proven, we need to think about -- about what may else have been going on here, aside from some very dastardly plot by Russia to control the American president.

VANIER: Asha, I want to make something clear with you. There are two strands to the investigation. There's a criminal side and there's a counter intelligence side. Help us understand this, the difference.

RANGAPPA: Right. The investigations on the criminal side is based on whether there's a suspicion or articulatable factual basis to believe that someone has violated the laws of the United States. That's when they use criminal tools to collect evidence and eventually prosecute somebody in the court of law if they find they violated the law.

On the counter intelligence side, it is not about whether you violated the U.S. Code, it is about whether your actions might pose a threat to national security.

It doesn't mean that you are necessarily doing something wittingly, for example. You could open -- open -- open up a counter intelligence investigation and foreign intelligence service is targeting you, the FBI may want to talk to that person.

I think Linda is right, this doesn't necessarily mean that the president was taking steps on behalf of Russia deliberately. But he may have had motives that allowed Russia to continue its operations.

Even if that were the case, even if firing James Comey would allow Russia to continue doing what it was doing, that itself would constitute a national security threat that may warrant opening this kind of investigation. And as Linda mentioned --


RANGAPPA: -- he -- he had the motivations.

VANIER: But this is where I don't follow. You're saying the president may have been pursuing his own goals that had nothing to do with Russia but actually ended up helping Russia even though -- even though they weren't doing it for the same reason.

RANGAPPA: Not that they had nothing to do with Russia. I think that Linda is right, that he definitely had interest in Russia. But I think what gets complicated is when you have someone sitting in the Oval Office and who holds the awesome powers of the presidency and has almost unfettered discretion in the realm of foreign affairs and foreign policy and then fires the director of the FBI, who is conducting one of the most important national security investigations, that that action in of itself can become a national security concern.

You need -- you need to examine what is going on behind that. As you mentioned, what the FBI uncovered in that may be detailed in Mueller's report. But we don't know that. What we do know is that the actions weren't in the interest of the United States based on what the FBI had collected and what they knew of at that time.

VANIER: All right, Asha Rangappa, Linda Feldmann, thank you so much to both of you for joining us.

FELDMANN: Sure, my pleasure.


VANIER: One quarter of the U.S. government workforce, roughly 800,000 people, have now borne the brunt of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Those federal employees are in their 22nd day without pay and it's not likely to end soon. Here's CNN's Kaitlan Collins.



(voice-over): President Trump backing off his threat to declare a national emergency to fund his border wall today.

TRUMP: What we're not looking to do right now is national emergency.

COLLINS: The president making that comment during an immigration roundtable at the White House after warnings that he would likely set off a firestorm of critics if he bypassed Congress to build his signature campaign promise, though Trump still maintains he can if he wants to. TRUMP: I have the absolute right to do it.

COLLINS: Washington is in a deadlock 21 days into the government shutdown and the White House has started exploring ways to pay for the wall without Congress, after talks with Democrats went nowhere.

TRUMP: The only way you're going to stop it, only way to stop it, without question, is with a very powerful wall or steel barrier.

COLLINS: Despite warnings Trump could face a lengthy legal battle if he did use his emergency powers, Senator Lindsey Graham urged him to do so after their meeting today, tweeting, "Democrats don't want to make a deal and will never support a border wall. Mr. President, declare a national emergency now. Build a wall now."

That comment despite Graham saying last week a national emergency was a, quote, "fallback position," but not all Republicans are on board, including Senator Chuck Grassley, who said, "The president should not do it. I think it might be a bad precedent."

This as vice president Mike Pence, who led shutdown negotiations on Capitol Hill, paid a visit to the Customs and Border Protection headquarters today.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I also know that we do this in the midst of a partial government shutdown. That's no doubt created anxiety for families that are gathered here today.

COLLINS: Making this pledge to the border agents who aren't getting paid:

PENCE: This president and this administration will keep fighting to build the wall and give you the resources and reforms you need to do your job. That's my promise.

COLLINS: While declaring a national emergency is not completely off the table, sources say he backed off that idea because he feared the sharp backlash he would get from not only Democrats but Republicans as well, who felt he would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite the flurry of activity through the shutdown, CNN is told there's no meetings scheduled between White House officials and congressional staffers over the weekend. They're going wait for lawmakers to get back in town -- Kaitlan Collins, CNN, the White House.


VANIER: Yellow Vest protesters are set to gather on the streets of France in the coming hours. Let me show you the scene last Saturday.


VANIER (voice-over): Will we see something like that again?

This weekend will mark the ninth in the a row the demonstrators are protesting the policies of the French government and President Emmanuel Macron himself. This all began as an outcry against higher fuel taxes but it expanded well beyond that. Protesters now want the movement to become a permanent fixture in French politics.

Bobby Ghosh joins me, he's an editor of Bloomberg and he's in London.

So the Yellow Vest movement seems to be gaining steam again. It died down somewhat a few weeks ago and now it seems to be picking up.

BOBBY GHOSH, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, so it -- it died down over the Christmas holiday period. But last weekend there were 50,000 people out. This weekend the police expect a much large protest. The police announced they're going to put 80,000 police across large parts of the country, much of them in Paris in anticipation of much more protests.

But not just protests; the protests initially were very peaceful but have become progressively more violent. Last weekend we saw people beating up a policemen and we saw a group using a truck to attack a government building. That's a concern that this is now spiraling out of the realm of political protest to something more violent.

VANIER: This started as a spontaneous movement. We mentioned the protests, the increase in fuel taxes.

Do we have now know what role the far left and the far right are playing?

How involved they are in the protest movement?

GHOSH: It is something -- it is a little complex because -- because any successful protest, many people want to take credit for. We know that there are activists on both extremes of French politics that are involved in the protests.


GHOSH: But the degree to which they're controlling events is unclear. This is -- in some ways it is a little apples and oranges. But in some ways it reminds me of the Arab Spring protests in 2011, which I covered extensively across North Africa. You had -- you had a similar situation, where the protests seem spontaneous and most of the people who are coming out are coming out not because they belong to one party or the other but in the (INAUDIBLE) case, some party activism was a road to other political parties. We're seeing something similar take place in France.

VANIER: Now in 2016 when populism came to the fore with Brexit in the U.K., with the victory of Donald Trump in the U.S., it was defeated in France by the victory of Emmanuel Macron.

Is this now the populist way of manifesting itself in the streets of France?

GHOSH: I think there's no question about that. I think France has dodged a bullet. But the bullet is still there. I think what -- what a lot of young French people, some of the same people that are protesting now, had hoped that Macron would represent their interests would be the big change from -- from politics as usual.

If we have something in common with these populist movements, is that the new faces that have been called up, these are new faces. People who do not represent party politics as usual and other people thought that Macron would represent that.

He is basically very much an old school politician and he is distanced from the concerns of ordinary people and taxes was, for them, proof of it. He's trying to reduce the role of the state. He's trying to reform France.

Some would argue that's necessary. But he's doing it in a way that seems imperious and uncaring about -- about the concerns of ordinary people. And they have no other way, they have -- they feel they have no way to turn. None of the main political parties, not even the big far right parties seems adequate.

One thing is worth considering, France, unlike the United States, doesn't have a big midterm poll. So once you have a government in place, once you have a president in place, there's no way for the people to send them a signal through the book, let's say two years down the line, to express their -- their -- their satisfaction or dissatisfaction. So for some people, these protests are -- are the only way that they can -- they feel they can express themselves.

VANIER: That's a very good point. It is going to be a few years before the parliament or the president are up for re-election. Bobby Ghosh, thank you so much for joining us and thanks for your analysis.

GHOSH: Anytime.

VANIER: A 13-year-old girl was missing for nearly three months after her parents were killed. But now Jayme Closs is reunited with relatives. We'll tell you how her rescue unfolded when we come back.

Plus, right now Britain's House of Commons is all quiet but it's only a few days until a landmark vote could dramatically change the plan for Brexit. Stay with us.





VANIER: Relief in the U.S. state of Wisconsin now that a girl who was missing for nearly three months is reunited with relatives. Jayme Closs' disappearance after her parents were murdered spurred thousands of tips and several searches. But it was the 13-year old herself who escaped to freedom and led police to her suspected kidnapper. Ryan Young has the details.


CHRIS FITZGERALD, BARRON COUNTY SHERIFF: It's amazing, the will of that 13-year-old girl to survive and escape.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the Barren County Sheriff telling the world how Jayme Closs was found alive after she was kidnapped and her parents murdered in their Wisconsin home; 88 days since she disappeared and almost 70 miles away, she approached a couple walking their dog.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I first saw her, I said, oh you know, she run away, did somebody just dump her off here because she didn't have coats or gloves or -- and then when she told me who she was, I figured she must have left in a hurry.

YOUNG: That woman took Jayme to a nearby home.

KRISTIN KASINSKAS, HELPED JAYME AFTER SHE WAS FOUND: I absolutely knew it was her. We've seen her picture a million times around here. She looked exactly the same as she did in her picture, a little bit thinner I would say.

PETER KASINKAS: Genie walked in and said this is Jayme Closs and call 911. I was in absolute shock.

YOUNG: That 9-1-1 call led police to Jayme Closs and led them to arrest 21-year-old Jake Patterson, charged with her kidnapping and with the murder of her parents. The authorities say there are no other suspects.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In cases like this we often need a big break and it was Jayme herself who gave us that break.

YOUNG: One of the women who helped said Jayme shared details about her captor.

K. KASINSKAS: She said that this person usually hides her or hides her when others are near or when he has to leave the household.

YOUNG: So many questions remain.

How did she escape her captor?

Why did Patterson target her in the first place?

FITZGERALD: We do believe Jayme was the only target. I can tell you that the subject planned his actions and took many proactive steps to hide his identity from law enforcement and the general public. For now the family is just glad to have her home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been awesome and we couldn't -- we could have never done it without the community.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was pulled over by our local sheriff. Amazing.

YOUNG: Kristin Kasinskas who called 9-1-1 to tell police that Closs was alive taught the suspect at a local middle school.

K. KASINSKAS: I don't really remember a whole lot about Jake. I had him as a middle school student in science class, very quiet kid, smart. I don't really -- I didn't really keep up with him after he left Northwood.

YOUNG: While her aunt shared the family's relief that her niece had been finally found.

JENNIFER SMITH, JAYME'S GODMOTHER: Oh Jayme, Aunt Jen can't wait to come and give you that big hug and hold you tight because we're not going to let you go.

YOUNG: Ryan Young, Barron County, Wisconsin.


VANIER: A big Brexit vote is coming up on Tuesday. The British Parliament will decide whether to approve or reject Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed deal with the E.U. If the lawmakers vote no, Britain could be leaving the European Union without a trade deal in place. Bianca Nobilo explains.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No deal or no Brexit: this is the prime minister's warning to MPs about what could happen if they vote against her deal on Tuesday.

The Met Police today issued a warning to retailers that they might need to hire extra security staff in the event of a no deal Brexit. That's because concerns about food shortages and problems at the border could cause a significant increase in customers.

Meantime, the U.K. foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt warned MPs if they don't vote for the prime minister's deal they could risk no Brexit at all.


JEREMY HUNT, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: We can no longer assume that by rejecting this deal, there will be a better shade of Brexit. And what is more likely, if this deal is rejected, is that we have the risk of Brexit paralysis. And when that happens, no one knows what might happen. And the big risk and what people worry about is that we don't have to deliver what people voted for.


NOBILO: It would take a miracle for Theresa May's deal to pass on Tuesday.

So what then?

Well, it is anyone's guess that options could include a significant renegotiation of the prime minister's deal or, to paraphrase the prime minister, no deal or no Brexit -- Bianca Nobilo, CNN, London.


VANIER: And a powerful cold snap is sweeping across Europe, creating record low temperatures. Take a look at how the icy weather has affected this in Southern Italy here. Images from social media show a fountain at a popular resort area has frozen over with water barely trickling through.


VANIER: The resort is near the Mediterranean, where the weather is usually mild.


VANIER: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll have the headlines in a moment.