Return to Transcripts main page


A New CNN Poll Shows Most Americans Blame Trump for Government Shutdown; U.S. Government Shutdown Enters Day 24 with Still No Deal in Sight; Trump Launches Attacks as Explosive Russia Reports Surface; Stocks Set for Sell-Off on China Export Decline; Trump Slams Senator Warren's Heritage in a Tweet; Trump Quotes a Man He Called "Hitler Lover" to Support Wall. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 14, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:14] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in a very snowy Washington, D.C.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It is a snowy but beautiful Washington. Good Monday morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

This morning CNN has obtained an extraordinary look behind the scenes of an explosive FBI investigation. Transcripts from FBI officials, closed-door testimony to Congress, showed the decision making process behind a counterintelligence probe of the president of the United States. A formal inquiry into the possibility that the president, President Trump, was, and I quote, "acting at the behest of and somehow forwarding directions of Russia."


HARLOW: It has --

SCIUTTO: The FBI has certainly not approved this. It's not publicly shown that to be the case. This is one extreme they were looking at here. But given the chance Saturday to just put this to rest in a FOX News interview, to deny it, the president did not. He merely called the question, quote, "insulting." The president is denying a report, however, in "The Washington Post" that he took perhaps unprecedented measures to keep his private discussions with Vladimir Putin private.

All of this unfolding on the 24th day of the partial government shutdown with no breakthroughs in sight. And one day before confirmation hearings for attorney general nominee William Barr, Barr, if concerned, confirmed rather, will be Robert Mueller's new boss.

Let's begin this hour with the FBI's thinking on the president's thinking on Russia, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz has that.

So, Shimon, these transcripts show the FBI really considering two extremes here. One, that the president was doing something to benefit Russia intentionally but also on the other end there was a more innocent explanation.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. And I think what this shows us really is that they've thought about everything as you would expect FBI investigators to do. Certainly senior members of the FBI at the time were thinking, on both levels, two different extremes. And what these transcripts of -- that we have obtained, that CNN has obtained, is of two FBI officials who testified in closed door before Congress.

And they revealed that on one end there was the idea, Jim, that Trump fired Comey because of Russia and then the other was the possibility that Trump was completely innocent, was acting within his bounds of his executive authority. Now one of those FBI senior members was the top lawyer, James Baker, who testified in the closed door hearing. And here's how he started to describe what their thinking was certainly as it related to Russia.

And here's what he said, that, quote, "that was one of the extremes. The other extreme was the president is completely innocent and we discussed that, too. 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 was 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 is what he told members of Congress. And then in another interview from another FBI lawyer, and we all remember her, Lisa Page. Of course as you will recall, she came under fire for her text with the former FBI agent Peter Strzok. Now she told members that the FBI had considered investigating Trump for some time. And here's how she described it.

"It's not that it could not have been done. The case has 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." And of course there she means open the investigation.

The investigation ongoing now with the special counsel. We'll see where it goes. Obviously, all of that and everything that they have found during that time, the FBI did, that all lives with Robert Mueller.

SCIUTTO: Just to be clear, Shimon, that question as to which extreme is true is still an open question from the FBI's perspective. Is that right? Or it's been handed off to Robert Mueller and we don't know where he has gone with that question?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So there's two things. Right? There are FBI agents that are assigned to Robert Mueller and they're still looking into that as far as we know. This could take years to figure out certainly whether or not the findings or whether the beliefs of what those findings are will ever be made public is a big topic of discussion, obviously. But, yes, that's all still very much ongoing, Jim, with the special counsel.

SCIUTTO: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

Poppy, listen, I mean, just asking that question is quite consequential.

HARLOW: It's a big one. Yes.

SCIUTTO: And unprecedented, you could say, but it may be that Robert Mueller has explored it and found that there's no there, there. We just don't know.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes. We don't know yet, but we will. Assuming the report is all made public.

Let's get straight to Capitol Hill where Democrats are gearing up to get more information about these meetings and conversations with President Vladimir Putin and President Trump.

[09:05:03] Manu, a lot of focus now on the interpreter, right? Because given the reporting over the weekend, the only person in the room for that meeting with notes told reportedly not to -- you know, to give them back to the president and then not to talk about them. There's a lot of question about the Democrats want to hear from the interpreter.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and that's been the case since the Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin and the president. That interpreter has been under immense interest to Democrats. But now that they are in charge of the House, at least two committees are eager to talk to that interpreter and get information. The House Foreign Affairs Committee, for one, said they'd hold hearings about the Trump-Putin relationship. That's according to Eliot Engel, the new chairman of that committee.

And Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee tweeted over the weekend that they sought last year to obtain the interpreter's notes or testimony from the private meeting between Trump and Putin. "But Republicans on our committee voted us down. Will they join us now? Shouldn't we find out whether our president is really putting America first?"

Clearly now they'll have votes on the committee to try to obtain those transcripts. Try to obtain those notes. Of course subpoena the White House, the Trump administration, to get more information. Expect that to be a focus and also expect more focus and follow "The New York Times" report from over the weekend about whether the FBI opened its investigation into whether the president was working on behalf of the Russians in the aftermath of that Comey firing.

Adam Schiff also said over the weekend that they want to look into the president's and his family's financial entanglements. And Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat in the Senate Intelligence Committee, telling Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION" yesterday that that is a central question. The president's ties to Russia in their investigation so not ending any time soon, Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: All right. Manu, thank you very much. And you'll hear what Mark Warner said in just a moment, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We're joined now by Mike Rogers. He's the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Also former FBI agent, now a CNN national security commentator.

Mike, thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So let me ask you this, about these notes of these private conversations between the president and the Russian president. I asked a former senior intelligence official here in the U.S. if he had experience with any U.S. official at any level down to the very low levels, concealing or confiscating the notes of a conversation with a Russian national, a Russian counterpart, and he couldn't think of one.

And I'm curious, in your experience, if you are aware of circumstances like that, and what is your reading of this? Is it significant? Is it worth investigating what those notes show and why the president sought to confiscate them?

ROGERS: Well, I mean, because of the narrative surrounding the president's activities with Russia, it just now begs the question of what happened in those meetings and why would you try to keep that? Not only just from the public which could be understandable, but your own staff. And so -- and why this is so important, and I have to tell you both from an FBI guy and as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee when I was in Congress, is the fact that the Russians will use things in these meetings in their information operations around the world.

And we saw that after the Helsinki meeting when Putin came out and was trying to insinuate that things happened in the meeting that of course the U.S. disagreed with but we have no way of knowing that. We have no other person in the room to push back on that. That's why you never want to give your adversary that one-on-one meeting without another person in there taking notes so that we can -- both sides can be clear on exactly what happened in those meetings, that kind of miscommunication, or, in the case of Russia, I wouldn't put it past Putin to misuse that information, change it around a little bit and use it to his purposes and his information operation.

HARLOW: Chairman Rogers, this weekend the president called in to do an interview with one of his favorite interviewers on FOX News, and he was asked point blank if he had ever --

ROGERS: It's not Jim Sciutto? I thought that was Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: It's not. I'm so sorry to break that to you this morning.

SCIUTTO: Not yet.


HARLOW: Not yet. There you go. Door always open. With Jeanine Pirro. And he was asked point blank if he had ever acted as an agent, wittingly or unwittingly, of Russia. He didn't say no. Here's what he said instead.

Oh, you can't hear it. Let me read it to you. Quote, "I think it's the most insulting thing I've ever been asked. I think it's the most insulting article I've ever had written. And if you read the article, you'd see they found absolutely nothing."

He could have just said no. What do you make of that, Mike?

ROGERS: Yes. I'm not so concerned about it as I can tell you as a political figure where people ask leading questions that you passionately disagree with, your first reaction is not to dignify the question. And maybe that's -- I'll give the president a little bit of a benefit of a doubt there that that's what he was doing. I'm not even going to dignify this with an answer. I'm insulted by the question. OK. Got that.

[09:10:01] Again the president's problem is just a larger narrative. And he keeps walking into that narrative. I mean, the only time the president is not shooting himself in the foot on the Russia investigation is when he's reloading the gun. He continues to interject himself in these conversations in a way that is not helpful for people to now understand what's going on with Russia.

He keeps feeding that narrative with these kinds of things. Taking the notes from an interpreter, saying don't talk to anybody. Not having another person in these meetings. Not fully disclosing if he had any financial dealings with Russia. All of which, by the way, could have been legitimate. You can't be a New York real estate guy and not bump into the Russians in the real estate market in New York City. It's just a fact of life.

All of that would have been OK but the way he's kind of slinking around this begs the question. It makes people want to ask more questions about what may be happening or what happened in the past. And now you have Cohen coming up that is likely to testify before Congress on February 7th. Likely to talk about the financial dealings in New York City of their real estate empire. That, I think, is probably going to leave a mark for the president and his family, unfortunately.

SCIUTTO: Yes. There's going to be some pretty remarkable public testimony from the president's former lawyer or fixer for more than a decade.

Mike Rogers, always good to have you on.

ROGERS: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Well, the president might be calling it the Schumer shutdown, but voters from the polls are not blaming the Democrats for this record-breaking impasse. We're going to tell you what the polls are telling us.

HARLOW: Also this morning, Turkey is firing back after the president threatens the U.S. and NATO ally over Syria. We'll get more on those growing tensions in a moment. And who is the most progressive of them all? More Democrats

officially going after the White House in 2020. But do they need to take a hard left turn to win it?


[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: We are now 24 days into this record-breaking government shutdown. The big question, who do Americans blame for it? Big political implications.

HARLOW: Yes, we know now from a new Cnn poll which shows 55 percent of you blame the president and Republicans for the shutdown, 32 percent blame Democrats and Congress. With us now, the one and only Cnn senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten. Good morning Harry.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER & ANALYST: Good morning and I am so jealous of Jim with that snow in the background. You know, fourth --

HARLOW: I know --

ENTEN: Refers also to snow and I wish I had it. But we'll get it soon enough.

HARLOW: You should have seen his sledding video with the kids yesterday, it was -- it was epic. Look, harry, looking at these numbers, the blame goes to the president for now. What I found interesting in that part is that when you look at independents, more independents also blame the president here.

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, look, it's very clear from all the polling that has come out over the weekend, you know, whether it'd be the Cnn poll or the "Abc News"-"Washington Post" poll that President Trump and congressional Republicans are losing the shutdown battle.

And you can see it, whether you look at independents or the top line of the Cnn poll. You can also see it in the fact that before the shutdown took place, Americans were asked who they would blame in the case of a shutdown. And while more Americans said at that point that they blame Republicans, the margin wasn't anywhere near it is at this point.

Republicans are losing the messaging war here, and that should be quite worrying to the president and congressional Republicans.

SCIUTTO: Harry, let me ask you, though, because there are clearly dangers here for Democrats as well, they came in with an ambitious agenda, doers and so on. In effect here now, this is the agenda, right? I mean, stopping funding for the border wall.

And there was a "Washington Post"-"Abc News" poll out this weekend that found that support for the wall is actually growing. It was 34 percent in January 2018, it is now 42 percent. And you see the opposition numbers coming down there. How significant is that in your view?

ENTEN: Well, it's certainly -- you know, if you look across polling from say, the beginning of 2018 to now the beginning of 2019, and that support for the wall has gone up a little bit. What I will point out though, there was a Quinnipiac poll out early last month as well as a Cnn poll, and if you were to average those numbers together and then average the "Abc News"-"Washington Post" poll with our own Cnn poll on support for the wall, what you see is, there hasn't been too much of a change in support for the wall over the last month.

Yes, maybe it grew a little bit over the course of 2018, although what I would say is that's more in line with the fact that the president's own numbers got better during the course of 2018, and the correlation between support for the wall and support for the president is so great at this point, that that shouldn't be too surprising to me.

HARLOW: Talking, though, Harry, about the president's approval rating. The new Cnn poll does look at that as well, and it shows 37 percent approve the job the president is doing, 57 percent disapprove 5 points higher than it was, you know, previously on the disapprove part.

But here's what really matters. The increase in disapproval comes primarily from white voters without college degrees, right? Key for the president. And he's under water here with them for the first time in a year. Significant?

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, look, the president's approval ratings have definitely taken a hit over the last month, whether you look at the Cnn poll or the average of all polls. And keep in mind that the president's approval rating has just been so steady throughout his entire term, so that when you see a movement, whether you see it in the Cnn poll or if you look at the average, it really does indicate that something has gone wrong.

HARLOW: But why not that part, Harry? I mean, if you are --

ENTEN: Sure --

HARLOW: The president and you're looking at that part of this number, are you alarmed?

ENTEN: I would certainly be alarmed, then again, I'd be alarmed if my approval rating was in the low 40s. I mean, we saw what happened in the midterms when his approval rating and the exit poll was at 45 percent. Now, you're at 37 percent overall.

Something is clearly going wrong, and more than that, to get below 40 percent, what I was going to point out was that, you have to see some of your base starting to go away. And obviously, white voters without a college degree were key part of the president's base and helped him win, you know, in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Michigan, despite losing the popular vote.

So this could be -- have huge implications for 2020. The map may be slightly different and the president -- [09:20:00] SCIUTTO: Yes --

ENTEN: May not have that advantage in the electoral college he had in 2016.

SCIUTTO: Harry, your approval rating is above the low 40s and -- I'd say it's at least, high 40s, Poppy, right?

I mean, you know --


HARLOW: High 40, Sciutto --

SCIUTTO: Fifty percent, yes --

HARLOW: I mean, this guy is like 85 in my book --

ENTEN: My mother's approval rating of me is a 100 percent.

HARLOW: Oh, there we go, yes, that is a non-bias reading from mom Enten. Harry, thank you --

ENTEN: Of course not, thank you --

HARLOW: We appreciate it. Also for us, so many Russia headlines over the weekend, explosive ones, Jim, the president, what is he doing? He is hurling insults, launching attacks against fellow lawmakers, the media, private business leaders, why?

SCIUTTO: Yes, you really got to sit back and look at those together. We're also --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks set for a sell-off at the start. You see the red arrows pointing down there, negative economic news out of China driving investors away.


SCIUTTO: This morning, the president is not just fighting off bombshell reports regarding Russia. Let's just step back, take note of what else the president was up to over the last couple of days. It's a pretty alarming list. He demeaned native Americans in a Twitter -- in a tweet attacking Elizabeth Warren, saying, quote, "if Elizabeth Warren often referred to by me as Pocahontas did this commercial for Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!"

Wounded Knee, of course, know the history there, slaughter of native Americans. He also went on, he attacked the private life of an American businessman Jeff Bezos.

HARLOW: Yes, calling him a name as well. Look, on top of this, the president suggested that the father-in-law of his own former attorney Michael Cohen is involved in illicit acts with no evidence, and he quoted a man he once called a "Hitler Lover", why?

To support his own border wall push. All caught up, it all happened this weekend. Joining us now, Cnn political commentators, political anchor Errol Louis and Matt Lewis, good morning to you. Matt Lewis, the significance of this, or just more shiny objects to run after. Although, really, racist comments against Elizabeth Warren.

MATT LEWIS, COLUMNIST, DAILY BEAST: No, I think this is the one thing that is a constant. I don't think that this is anything really remarkable anymore.


LEWIS: This is Donald Trump, it's what he's been doing for a few years now in the political world. And I don't know if there's a method to the madness. Is he trying to distract us from the shutdown and from the Russia stuff, or is this just he gets bored?

Whatever the case may be, this is the new normal. He trolls people, he attacks people on Twitter, and as much as I hate to say that it's become a norm, it basically is mundane.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, Errol Louis, Matt's right. It is -- I can't tell you how many times, you know, we'll have the news on in the car and some comments -- I have to turn it off so my kids don't hear the comments, right? It's just -- it's offensive as a parent.

But the political consequences seem baked in if they're there, do they not? I mean, many Republicans --


SCIUTTO: Either say he's just an unconventional kind of leader or just don't, and many sitting lawmakers just won't contest the language.

LOUIS: Right. The Republicans who have decided to try and side-step this, run for cover, laugh it off, try and explain it in some way. They got a little taste in November of where that path leads, that cowardly path, that cowardly path leads to being turned out of office, frankly, because the voters have decided -- the voters have indicated in many places where you never would have thought Democrats would make in-roads in places like Utah and in Arizona.

They have indicated that they're sick of it. That they want something different. I think, frankly, when the full record is known to the public, what we're going to recognize in hindsight is that this is what a White House in crisis, this is what a presidency in full meltdown looks like.

That when the walls are closing in and one damning report after another is coming to light, the president sits there with his Blackberry and tweets out all kinds of crazy comments. HARLOW: Well, here's the thing, Matt Lewis. The racist comment that

he made about Elizabeth Warren, was that just unbelievable tweet, which by the way is an official White House statement, comes as the House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy says that today, action will be taken against Iowa Congressman Republican Steve King because of his racist remarks.

So I mean, where does this leave the party? The president has been silent on Steve King's remarks. We'll see what action may be taken in the House. And then the president puts out a racist remark.

LEWIS: Right --

HARLOW: I mean, what predicament does this put the party in?

LEWIS: Well, I mean, like the first thing I would say is, the only thing I disagree with what Errol had to say there is, I don't think this is what Trump does in crisis. I think this is what Trump does all the time. If he were doing great, he would be sending out horrible tweets --


LEWIS: About people and saying that that's why we're doing so great. So I think this is who he is, this is what he does, but you make a really -- I think valid point which is that Republicans and conservatives can try to police the right. We can try to censure and remove the unseemly elements in our coalition.

I think both sides have unseemly elements. But the problem is, you can't get rid of Donald Trump.


LEWIS: The guy at the head of the ticket, the Republican Party standard bearer basically believes a very similar world view to Steve King.


LEWIS: So, yes, they can try to punish a congressman from Iowa for essentially believing many of the same things --