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Trump Takes Extraordinary Measures to Hide Records of Putin Meetings; FBI Debated Whether Trump Followed Russia's Direction; A.G. Nominee Says Mueller Should Be Allowed to Finish Report; Democrat Committees to Issue Subpoena to Interpreter from Trump/Putin Helsinki Meeting. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 14, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] GRETCHEN CARLSON, HOST, LIFETIME DOCUMENTARY & FORMER FOX NEWS ANCHOR: -- to take that bold move and save, we're going to do more than we have to, more than our words. Our actions are going to show that we are in support of women.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: To protect people.


BOLDUAN: Gretchen Carlson, thank you.

CARLSON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: I look forward to seeing it tonight. Thank you for fighting for so many people on this front.

CARLSON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Again, you can watch it tonight, two-hour doc, "Breaking the Silence," on Lifetime tonight, 8:00 Eastern, 7:00 Central.

Thank you for joining us today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto, in Washington.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

A remarkable moment unfolding at short time ago at the White House. A sitting American president forced to address a couple of staggering questions. Has he ever worked for the Russian government? That's one. Two, also, why is he hiding from even his closest advisers what has he discussed behind closed doors with Vladimir Putin? The "Washington Post" reporting President Trump has taken extraordinary measures to prevent detailed records of his face-to-face meetings with the Russian president from being shared at all. On one occasion, even seizing the notes made by his own interpreter. Why? What is he so concerned about?

Here's what the president said leaving the White House a short time ago.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never worked for Russia. You know that answer better than anybody. I never worked for Russia. Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it's a disgrace that you even asked that question because it's a whole big, fat hoax.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now from the White House, CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip.

Abby, what else did the president say about this as he was leaving today?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, it was a do- over by President Trump on that subject. After this weekend, he was asked the same question, and he declined to give a yes or no answer to say whether he had worked for Russia. But the president also tried to downplay the premises of this story, which is, when it comes to Vladimir Putin and Russia, he has taken extraordinary measures, the kind that his aides don't see him taking with other countries, to withhold information about what's happening in these one-on-one meetings. He likened it to the conversations he has with other leaders and downplayed it significantly to reporters on the South Lawn. Listen.


TRUMP: I have those meetings one-on-one with all leaders, including the president of China, including the president of Japan, Abe. We have those meetings all the time. No big deal.


PHILLIP: The problem is that his aides do believe, based on the reporting that's been out there over the weekend, that there's something different about how the president deals with this, taking the notes from an interpreter. On five separate occasions, President Trump has met with Vladimir Putin and, each time, an extraordinary amount of secrecy has been reserved for those kinds of meetings. The question is why. The president didn't really answer the question about whether or not he would be willing to allow those notes to be revealed or why he confiscated them in the first place.

What we are hearing from White House aides, however, is that they believe that the president was concerned about leaks. That this was part of his reaction to a number of leaks going on in his administration at the time. But the problem is it's not the same as with the president of Japan, for example, or the president of China. President Trump is dealing with Russia in a different way, and that's creating problems and an extraordinary moment on the lawn where the president has to deny that he was working for a foreign government for the first two years of his presidential administration -- Kate? BOLDUAN: One thing, at least right now, they don't seem to be

disputing is that the president seized these records, which I find a very important moment. Give us five minutes and they will. At this moment, it does not seem they're disputing that fact in this story.

Thanks so much, Abby. Great to see you.

President Trump faces other troubling questions today about his relationship with Russia. Some even coming from the FBI. The "New York Times" first reporting that, after President Trump fired James Comey, law enforcement officials considered an unthinkable question. Was the sitting president working on behalf of the Kremlin? So serious the question was, that they began an investigation.

According to transcripts obtained by CNN, James Baker, then the bureau's general counsel, told Congress that FBI officials were considering whether Trump was, quote, "acting at the behest of and somehow following directions somehow executing their will."

CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is following these developments for us.

Shimon, it seems that there's something of a debate going on amongst law enforcement officials on this. What more do the transcripts tell us?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: These were about a half dozen or so FBI agents, personnel from the FBI, senior most level, and really what these transcripts in review of which was obtained by CNN, two officials who gave closed-door congressional interviews revealed that, on one end, there was the idea that Trump fired Comey at the behest of Russia, and then the other was the possibility that Trump was completely innocent and was acting within the bounds of his executive authority.

[11:05:15] Now, James Baker, as you mentioned, who is the top lawyer for James Comey at the FBI at the time described thinking this way, as it related to Russia, that that was one extreme. He said the other extreme was the possibility that the president was completely innocent. And we discussed that, too, he said. "There's a range of things this could possibly be," he told members of Congress. "We need to investigate because we don't know whether, you know, the worst-case scenario is possibly true or the president is totally innocent. And we need to get this thing over with and so he can move forward with his agenda," he told members of Congress.

In another interview from another FBI lawyer, which we've all come to know and who has been attacked by the president, Lisa Page, he mentioned her today, she's come under attack for her texts with now former fired FBI agent, Peter Strzok. She told members the FBI had considered investigating Trump for some time. Here's exactly what she said, quote, "It's not that it could not have been done. This case had been a topic of discussion for some time. The 'waiting on' was an indecision and a cautiousness on the part of the bureau with respect to what to do and whether there was sufficient predication to open."

That, what she's talking about there is open this investigation.

What these transcripts of these two testifying before Congress shows us is that this was not really such a simple decision for the FBI. They thought about it. They deliberated. Finally. after seeing what happened to the former FBI director, they went ahead and opened this investigation, which we should note now all lives with Robert Mueller.

BOLDUAN: As does pretty much everything else.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Shimon. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

I want to talk more now about that "Washington Post" report that the president went to, quote, "extraordinary lengths" to conceal details of his conversations with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. Among the unusual steps by President Trump, confiscating his own interpreter's notes after a 2017 meeting with Putin. And ordering that same interpreter to not reveal details of the conversation, even to other administration officials.

Democrats are reviving efforts to subpoena those materials. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeting this about all this: "Last year, we sought to obtain the interpreter's notes or testimony from the private meeting between Trump and Putin. Republicans on our committee," Schiff says, "voted us down. Will they join us now? Shouldn't we find out whether our president is really putting America First?"

The from the Democratic chairman, Adam Schiff.

The reporter who broke this story is joining me right now, Greg Miller, the national security correspondent for the "Washington Post."

Greg, great to see you as always. Amazing reporting you have. Thanks for coming on.


BOLDUAN: You write that President Trump went to these, quote, unquote, "extraordinary lengths" to conceal the details of his conversations with Putin. In your reporting what -- all the conversation that you had, what's so extraordinary about it?

MILLER: It's extraordinary in that no president has done diplomacy like this with any world leader. Presidents meet with world leaders all the time. Almost always they bring not just an interpreter, but one and more senior aides, including one designated as a note taker to take careful records of everything that is discussed. Trump doesn't do anything like that. He keeps his aides on the outside of his room. He doesn't listen to them going into the meeting. He doesn't tell them what happened coming out of the meeting. That would be disconcerting all on its own, but this is Russia. These are his meetings with the leader of the country that interfered in the 2016 election, specifically to help him win the White House. That is why this is so important.

BOLDUAN: And this was not one time, as you lay out in your piece. This is part of a broader pattern of behavior when it comes to Putin for President Trump.

MILLER: Absolutely. I mean, even on that same occasion where he takes his interpreter's notes, later that evening, they have banquet for world leaders, Trump leaves his seat and goes over to sit down with Vladimir Putin for some extended period of time. He doesn't even tell his aides later about that meeting. They're in the dark about his conversation with Putin where there's no American presence. There's no even American interpreter in that case.

BOLDUAN: And here's the thing about it. It's one thing to not allow anyone else in the room, kind of on the front end, making a pro-active decision about that, Greg. It's after the fact, taking the step to take the notes from the interpreter and say, do not share the information from this meeting. That is something completely different. That does suggest at the very least the president was considered about what it would look like if that information came out. And you can take steps to what other things that could suggest. Have you gotten any indication if the president did this after could conversations with any other foreign leader?

[11:10:19] MILLER: No. I don't know of another case with any other foreign leader where he's seeking out and taking notes from the interpreter afterward. Even if this case, the only reason with know about what he did on this occasion is that his own aides, his own subordinates went to that interpreter later trying to get a read out of what had happened in Trump's meeting with Putin in that case, and they were told by the interpreter, no, he told me I'm not allowed to talk about it and he took my notes. So it's not just trying to keep this out of the public view. He's trying to keep the senior most officials in his own administration from knowing what's going on behind that door.

BOLDUAN: We heard from Kellyanne Conway this morning, who seemed to suggest that the records could still exist. Do you have an indication of those notes still exist?

MILLER: I don't know what became of those notes taken by that interpreter. I mean, we should keep in mind that interpreters are not there to take detailed comprehensive notes of a conversation. They're scribbling down things as they're just trying to translate between Russian and English on the fly. So those notes wouldn't be comprehensive necessarily to begin with. Because of how Trump does business, they're the only written record anybody has of what was said in there.

BOLDUAN: It's still baffling. One of the president's initial reactions over the weekend was saying, "Anyone could have listened to that meeting. That meeting is open for grabs." Which I don't think what anyone knows what that means right now. Clearly, as we can tell from your reporting, that is not the case.

Greg, thanks for coming in. I really appreciate it. MILLER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much.

This just in, "Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to finish his work." That statement coming from the man President Trump has picked to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general ahead of his confirmation hearing to start tomorrow. How will the president respond? This is important news coming in.

Plus this coming in. Trump shoots down one of his top Republican allies in the Senate, a suggestion from that ally, saying he will not support Lindsey Graham's proposal to reopen the government for a short period of time. Details on that rejection and what that means going forward. That's next.


[11:16:43] BOLDUAN: "On my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work." That's what attorney general nominee, Bill Barr, says he plans to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow as his confirmation hearings are set to begin. Barr has been critical in the past of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and that's why this is a really big question. This is a well big moment.

Let's go to CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, for more.

What do we know ahead of Barr's testimony tomorrow about what he's likely to say, Jessica?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we know the hearing will be contentious. Because of that, William Barr is releasing his opening remarks about 24 hours in advance, possibly in a quest to tamp down on this flurry of aggressive questioning that he could face. So the headline here, William Barr will pledge to let Special Counsel Robert Mueller finish his report and continue unimpeded with the Russia investigation.

Barr will make these remarks official tomorrow morning beginning at 9:30. And in them, we've gotten the whole list of what he will say here. He says he will say that it will be vitally important for Mueller to complete his investigation. And Barr will continue on and say, "I will not permit partisan politics, personal interest, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation."

Of course, Kate, Democrats have raised a lot of skepticism about Barr, given his previous comments in both op-eds and even in unsolicited memo he submitted to DOJ that, in his view, the president could not have obstructed justice to fire FBI Director James Comey since it was within his authority.

But Barr now coming out in front of those criticisms releasing four- pages worth of his testimony in which he will say the public should be told of the results of Mueller's work. And he also will say that his goal will be to provide as much transparency as he can consistent with the law.

So, Kate, Bill Barr coming out in front of all this saying that he will stand behind the Mueller investigation. He writes in his testimony he's known Bob Mueller for 30 years, saying he will stand by it, he wants the report released publicly, and that he will not impede this investigation -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right. Jessica, great to see you. Thank you so much. A lot to come on that tomorrow.

Let me bring in my panel right now, Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent, and CNN national security analyst. And CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, is here as well. She was a senior adviser to the national security adviser near the Obama administration.

Great to see you.

Asha, really quick, when Bill Barr says this, "On my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work," how important is that?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's very important. I think it is reassuring to the American people. You know, he is the former A.G. He understands the values and principles of the Department of Justice as an institution. I also think the fact that he has a professional relationship with Robert Mueller, I'm sure he respects him a lot. Now, let's remember that under the special counsel regulations, if he does try to stop anything that Mueller does, that does trigger a reporting requirement, and it would go to Congress. I think there's an extra layer of transparency that is ensured should he take steps for whatever reason.

[11:20:01] BOLDUAN: Interesting. Much more to come on that tomorrow.

But on today, right now, Samantha, Greg Miller, I had on from the "Washington Post," reporting about how the president has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal notes and information about his face- to-face meetings with Vladimir Putin from being public or going to his closest advisers. What would these notes look like? What would they contain?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Kate, I have planned, executed and memorialized presidential meetings, and there's various steps that past presidents have taken to maintain basic counterintelligence hijinks. At the front of any meeting, you plan a meeting manifest for meeting participants to ensure there are human witnesses in the room that can corroborate what happened and promote your team and empower them and show a foreign leader you want your own team there. And you have a note taker present that can write down a written record of what happened that can be filed in the presidential archive because that is a foundational document that sets a U.S. narrative about what happened. And it can be incorporated into actual policy planning going forward. Absent any of those steps, President Trump is letting Russia set the narrative about what happened. He's hamstringing U.S. policy teams from incorporating any feedback into what happened. And he's really saying, take my word for it or take Vladimir Putin's. The question is really why? He didn't do this once. He did this five times. Keep in mind that every time he met with President Putin, the Intelligence Community would have given him a briefing on what to expect and Russia's ongoing attack on our country. He cannot claim ignorance is bliss. The question is, why does he keep doing this? What is the intend behind it? And based upon all that, we should all be asking, is the FBI counterintelligence investigation still ongoing based upon all of these red flags.

BOLDUAN: That might be something that Bill Barr should have the answer to tomorrow.

VINOGRAD: Exactly.

BOLDUAN: Asha, when it comes to the interpreter's notes or the interpreter themselves, there's now a big conversation that is reigniting again, if there should be a subpoena issued. And is a subpoena correct for the interpreter and what that would mean. What do you think about this?

RANGAPPA: Yes, so with regard to the notes themselves, I want to point out that those actually should be preserved legally under something called the Presidential Records Act.


RANGAPPA: So those should not be destroyed. That would not be in compliance with the law.

Just to Sam's point, I want to add that having a briefing with your team and particularly with your intelligence team after a meeting like that would help, you know, enhance our intelligence capabilities by knowing what our adversary is interested in and what he asked about. He's hamstrung our I.C. in some ways.

In regard to the subpoena, there are thorny legal issues here. Going back to President George Washington, there has been a traditional pushback in the separation of power principles against Congress intruding on the president's diplomatic role as a head of state and meeting with other heads of state. And those can be sensitive conversations. We don't want Congress to be able to harass a president by intruding on those all the time. However, here there's a legitimate national security concern based upon all of the things that Sam just said. I think that it would raise some big legal separation- of-power issues to issue a subpoena. I expect the White House would assert some kind of privilege over them. And then we would have to see if it got litigated where the courts came down on it.

BOLDUAN: That would be a real big one. Likely could be a real big fight that is actually coming.

Asha, great to see you.

Thank you, Sam.

I really appreciate it, guys. [11:23:50] This also just into CNN. The House Intelligence and

Foreign Affairs Committees are now planning on this issue to meet today over how to subpoena those notes from President Trump's interpreter. Can they? The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee is joining us next.


[11:28:47] BOLDUAN: This just in. Congressional aides tell CNN that House Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committee staffers are expected to meet today to discuss issuing subpoenas for records of interpreter president during President Trump's meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during last summer's summit in Helsinki.

Let's discuss. Joining me right now, Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel, of New York, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for coming in.


BOLDUAN: We have this reporting into CNN, staffers meeting to look into -- return to this idea of trying to possibly issuing subpoenas with regard to the interpreter's notes. Do you think you have the authority to get the notes from Helsinki?

ENGEL: I think, ultimately. But that's not what we're up to yet. We want to work together with the Intelligence Committee. There's no sense to have two investigations going on. So we want to work with them. No decision has been made on subpoenas or anything else. We're going to not do this cavalierly. We're going to put our heads together and get at the truth. And we're going to work together. I look forward to working with Chairman Schiff and others that may be involved with jurisdiction. What we're not going to do is sit back and do nothing. We're going to try to get to the bottom of this.