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Tulsi Gabbard Under Fire Over Anti-Gay Comments; TSA Screening Concerns During Shutdown; FBI Investigated Whether Trump Was Russian Asset. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired January 14, 2019 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because it's a whole big, fat hoax. It's just a hoax.
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BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: This is what we're talking about. As 800,000 federal workers struggle the make ends meet, the longest government shutdown now in U.S. history, now in day 24, with no end in sight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I don't know if we're close on a deal. This should be the easiest deal that I have ever seen.
We're talking about border security. Who can be against it? And the Democrats don't want to do anything about it. They say, oh, it's immoral. But it wasn't immoral three years ago, five years ago, six years ago, and 10 years ago, when they all raised their hands to approve a wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: We will get into this government shutdown and our coverage of that in just a moment, but first to the news that the FBI opened an investigation into whether Trump was working for Russia.
CNN has obtained transcripts from closed-door congressional interviews that then FBI general counsel James Baker told lawmakers there were two opposing views, all right, so on the one hand, that Trump, when he fired FBI Director James Comey, was -- quote -- "somehow following directions, somehow executing their" -- meaning Russia's -- "will."
The other view was that Trump was -- quote Baker -- "completely innocent." And, as we're learning about this debate, "The Washington Post" is reporting President Trump has been hiding information on five face-to-face meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on one occasion reportedly even taking the notes of his own interpreter and directing him not to discuss what happened with other administration officials.
So let's start this hour with CNN contributor Garrett Graff, author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror."
So, Garrett, always great to have you on. Good to see you.
Just starting with today's extraordinary headline, that the FBI actually questioned whether the president of the United States is a Russian agent?
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
I mean, Brooke, it really is hard to overstate how extraordinary this is. The FBI has plenty of experience, unfortunately, investigating the president over the years for criminal matters. I mean, this is something that we have seen during the Nixon administration. We saw it during Iran-Contra. We saw it during the Clinton years.
But the idea of a counterintelligence investigation, which is a separate lane of an FBI investigation, meant to neutralize foreign influence inside the United States, I mean, that's extraordinary. I mean, that -- I am unaware of any moment in FBI history where they have ever opened a counterintelligence investigation targeting the president of the United States before.
I mean, this is a truly historic moment.
BALDWIN: And these historic developments prompting basically an "I told you" so from Hillary Clinton, who claimed during the campaign that Trump was a puppet for Russia. And she was certainly not the only one. Remember this?
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TRUMP: Putin, from everything I see, has no respect for this person.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States.
TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.
CLINTON: And it's pretty clear...
TRUMP: You're the puppet!
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: What Donald Trump is say is that he would unilaterally surrender to Russia and Putin, give Putin a massive foreign policy victory.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This guy's already doing enormous damage to us around the world. This is a race between a man who praises Vladimir Putin, pursues Putin.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And he thinks Putin's a good guy. So I just can't go there.
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: And Donald Trump has got all these weird connections with Russia.
SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH: Donald Trump says he admires Vladimir Putin. At the same time, he's called George W. Bush a liar. That is a twisted example of evil trumping good.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I do think that a Trump victory is a gift to Vladimir Putin. It's like they're on the same page.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: And now you have Vladimir Putin basically pulling out the old KGB playbook on how to manipulate Donald Trump. And it appears he's fallen right into it.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Trump's continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr. Putin is unprecedented in American politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, again, people on both sides saying that.
I just had Max Boot on, columnist for "The Washington Post," on last hour. He wrote this whole piece today, right, of essentially one through 18 of all the reasons why Trump is a Russian agent.
And reason number one, Garrett, for him was Trump's long financial history with Russia. Do you think that that's the center of this?
GRAFF: Yes, and it's something that we don't know nearly as much as we should know.
I mean, remember this is a president who has been historically oddly secret about his finances as president, refusing to release his tax returns. We still don't have a good understanding of what business deals he may have with Russians, what debt he might owe to Russians, and that this is something where we have the president's own family, his son, saying that most of their money, much of their money has come traditionally from Russia in recent years.
GRAFF: But we have no actual proof what that actually means or who is involved.
And in many ways, we think -- we have sort of gotten very caught up over the last two years as we have been debating this with the idea that the kompromat that Russia may have on the president or his family, the compromising material, is some sort of salacious video or some sort, but it's much more likely to be much more mundane, sort of these intertwined business relationships. Russia has been continually pressing the Trump administration through these back channels to ease sanctions. That's the core of the Kislyak conversations with Michael Flynn. It's the core of the conversations at the Trump Tower in June 2016.
And Russia is really trying to maneuver their way through this presidency to regain their access to the world financial markets.
BALDWIN: Well, you and I have talked so many times about Trump and Russia and this investigation. You have been following the Mueller investigation so closely.
Do you think Mueller has moved to interview the interpreter?
GRAFF: I'm not sure that he would necessarily even need to.
I mean, remember, Mueller has access to classified intelligence information that doesn't necessarily have to come out in a criminal proceeding.
I'm sure that Mueller has access to sources and methods that we literally cannot imagine.
BALDWIN: But this was an interpreter who was told by the commander in chief to toss the notes and not talk to his own administration, what information would even exist for Mueller to read?
GRAFF: Well, for instance, if you were an intelligence agency that was seeking to eavesdrop on that conversation, as I'm sure many intelligence agencies from around the world were seeking at the G20 to eavesdrop on the conversations of other heads of state.
BALDWIN: Hmm, interesting.
Garrett Graff, Thank you very much.
I'm going to continue this conversation. It could be a moment like nothing we have ever seen before. I have said extraordinary. Garrett said historic, unprecedented, if President Trump's interpreter is forced to testify before Congress about what happened in the president's private meetings with Putin.
Last hour, House Foreign Affairs Committee member Democrat Gerry Connolly told me that they are still deciding whether to subpoena the interpreter who was in the room when the president met with Putin. Watch this.
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REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: This is a very grave matter. Getting to the truth, frankly, is more important than precedent or executive privilege.
The only person besides Putin who witnessed and was privy to the conversation is Marina Gross, the translator. She has to be heard from under oath before our committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: My next guest knows the ins and the outs of being an interpreter for the most powerful people of the world. He is Dimitry Zarechnak. He served as the interpreter for Presidents Ronald Reagan, H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
So, Dimitry, a pleasure. Welcome, sir.
DIMITRY ZARECHNAK, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL INTERPRETER: Thank you. Welcome as well.
BALDWIN: I just want to ask you first, just how historic, how unprecedented is it that the current president of the United States went to such great lengths to take the interpreter's notes from his private meeting with Vladimir Putin and Hamburg in 2017?
ZARECHNAK: We assume that that actually happened. And, of course, we don't know the sources that that information comes from.
I'm always a little leery about believing everything that I read in the press, and specifically because I myself was once interviewed by NPR about why there was no interpreter in the Hamburg banquet. And I explained in detail. And then on the Internet the next day, what came out was exactly the opposite of what I had said.
So, therefore, in order to...
BALDWIN: Listen, I hear you. And not every -- I love NPR, but not every press out like gets it right.
But let -- can we take "The Washington Post" reporting as truth, putting it on their sources? And I don't know -- if this were fact, Dimitry, I just want to hear your comment, not only on, again, their reporting that this president told the interpreter to do away with the notes, but also not to tell anyone about the meeting, anyone within his own administration.
ZARECHNAK: OK, I guess, against -- I have to assume that that actually took place. That's always a difficult thing to do, to base one's opinion assumptions that one is not sure are really true.
Now, as far as, could he have done that, maybe? And why would he have done that? Well, the leaks coming out of this White House are so unprecedented, I mean, it's just mind-boggling. The president can't sneeze without it coming into the press, and therefore maybe the reaction of Trump is to try to prevent this as much as possible.
Now, by the way, during the Nixon administration, when Kissinger was the national security adviser, they not only didn't take the interpreter's notes. There was no American interpreter in the room at all. They totally relied on the Soviet interpreters. And, somehow, nobody seemed to pay much attention to that. So, in other words, that was done, I assume, to keep things secret as much as possible by Kissinger, by Nixon. And maybe this is the motivation, if it actually happened, on the part of Trump.
BALDWIN: All right. Help -- listen, and I understand that. So much of this is about trust, right? This is about trust between world leaders. This is about trust between a translator and the president of United States.
But I don't have to ask you to put yourself in their shoes, because you have done this for years with several presidents. If you were to be in a high-level meeting between world leaders, and you heard something, Dimitry, that was compromising to national security, and you took the notes, and you left, would you then -- and if this president told you not to say a word, would you then be beholden to the president or to the United States of America?
ZARECHNAK: When you say compromising to national security, that whole concept to me is totally impossible.
BALDWIN: We are in the realm -- we're there. So, if you will allow me to present you with this hypothetical, what would you do?
ZARECHNAK: You know, it's a hypothetical that's too crazy to even think that the president would endanger national security.
For me, that's like, well, what would happen if the moon exploded? It's not possible. There's no point in my speculating on that.
BALDWIN: But you were dealing with presidents like Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. We're dealing with President Trump. And there's so much we don't know.
ZARECHNAK: Well, that's right. We -- I mean, of course, we don't know.
But your hypothetical is just too much for me to speculate. And, you know, I talked about this possibility of the interpreter being subpoenaed a few months ago, right after the Helsinki meeting at CNN, as a matter of fact. And my reaction was that it was just an atrocious request.
Why? Because if any foreign leader thinks that the interpreter can be summoned, subpoenaed to testify, he obviously will not want to have that meeting. And, moreover, if the interpreter can be summoned to testify, why would the president even want to have our interpreter at the meeting, fearing that he's going to be summoned?
And that would be a crazy situation.
BALDWIN: An excellent question. So many questions. Who knows if this interpreter will be subpoenaed? I hear you on not. And I know it's laughable because it is the realm of impossible, but who knows if we're there or not?
Dimitry Zarechnak, thank you very much.
ZARECHNAK: Thank you.
BALDWIN: I appreciate your voice here.
Coming up next, real-world impact, the effect this government shutdown is now having at the world's busiest airports. Travelers in Atlanta met with extremely long security lines, as TSA screeners, who are not getting paid, are now calling out.
Is security also being compromised? The former head of the TSA will join me live next.
And growing outrage over the widely reported racist comments made by Republican congressman Steve King. President Trump was asked about it today and says he knows nothing about it. Why that, in and of itself, is a problem.
And what the trial of cartel leader El Chapo is revealing about how drugs are actually smuggled into the United States, and would a southern border wall make much of a difference?
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: The partisan blame game is in full swing in Washington, as the longest U.S. shutdown in history drags on.
Caught in the middle, 800,000 federal workers, some of whom are taking to the streets in protest after their paychecks stopped on Friday.
And if you think you will be affected because you are not among them, think again, because this was the scene, travelers waiting in line this morning at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Security lines at the world's busiest airport stretched all the way to baggage claim.
One of those passengers told CNN he'd been waiting for more than an hour and still had another half-hour to go.
Officials say TSA is struggling with staff shortages because of the shutdown. And it's a similar scene at airports in Miami and Houston, which have temporarily closed some TSA checkpoints.
And my next guest was responsible for the security of millions at U.S. airports and on highways and on mass transit as the TSA administrator during the Obama administration. He is John Pistole, and he joins me live. He's currently the president of Anderson University.
So, John Pistole, a pleasure. Welcome, sir.
JOHN PISTOLE, FORMER ADMINISTRATOR, TRANSPORTATION SECURITY ADMINISTRATION: Thank you, Brooke. It's good to be with you.
BALDWIN: All right, so you blink and you think back to 2013, and that government shutdown. You were the TSA chief then. How would you compare what you had to deal with then vs. now?
PISTOLE: Well, of course, that shutdown was for 16 days. So this is obviously longer.
And I think there's just a greater sense of uncertainty as to how long this one will go on, given the information coming from the White House and Congress, and that seeming intransigence.
There was obviously an increase, a spike today in the number of TSA employees who called in sick, call-outs, unscheduled absences that you may have seen or already reported on, that it was over double what it was a year ago, when there was no shutdown.
So 7.6, 7.7 percent of employees called in sick today vs. 3.2 last year. So, yes, it's just that uncertainty. And I can say I traveled personally through for airports this weekend, and very low call-out rate. And I talked to a number of TSA employees, obviously frustrated that they didn't get paid on Friday.
And that may help explain some of the reason why there's higher call- out today. But, again, people are focused on security and trying to do the right thing in challenging circumstances.
BALDWIN: How about this, the security breach in Atlanta?
There was a passenger, John, who was actually able to board a flight and travel to Japan with a firearm in his carry-on. Now, I know the TSA is pushing back on any claims this was any shutdown-related whatsoever, saying a normal amount of staffers were working that day and that the call-out rate for that day was actually higher a year ago.
But they do acknowledge that the standard procedures were not followed. And so, John, between staffing and sick-outs because of the shutdown and a guy carrying a gun on a plane, that is not going to make anyone feel better about flying right now.
PISTOLE: Right. Well, that's for sure. And I will be flying to D.C. tomorrow. So I'm part of that crowd.
But a little bit of context. So, that flight from Atlanta to Tokyo was back on January 2, so almost two weeks ago. And so part of it is just that there -- last year, nearly 4,000 guns were seized at checkpoints, prevented from getting on planes.
And the fact is, during my for 4.5 years as administrator and every year, there are some that are not found. They should be. A hundred percent of the guns should be found. And, in every instance, it's been documented that it's not a terrorist or putative terrorist, somebody trying to test the system.
It's somebody who literally forgot or, as some people say, oh, I didn't pack my bag, my spouse or my girlfriend or somebody else did -- 80 percent of them are men between 30 and 50 years old. And so, yes, the good news is not terrorists that have been trying to exploit the system, but the concern is that somebody missed it.
And TSA says they have held that person or persons accountable, but, yes, clearly unacceptable.
BALDWIN: Here's another concern, what one of the president's top economic adviser said recently, just back to the government shutdown, what he said about the shutdown and the impact it's having on all these hundreds of thousands of federal workers. Here he was.
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KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: A huge share of government workers were going to take vacation days, say, between Christmas and New Year's. And then we have a shutdown, and so they can't go to work, and so then they have the vacation, but they don't have to use their vacation days.
And then they come back, and then they get their back pay. Then they're -- in some sense, they're better off.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: What is your response to that?
PISTOLE: Well, so I would just like to put a person in the position of somebody who is making maybe $30,000 a year who lives almost paycheck to paycheck and then is required to work as an essential personnel, and yet is not getting paid.
And so they're looking for other work to try to make ends meet to pay the child care or to buy the groceries, whatever it may be.
And so I think there's just a disconnect there in terms of understanding what a lot of these people who are working hard to protect the safety and security of the traveling public, what they're doing, what their work is all about, and how important that work is, because, obviously, if you don't get it right, and somebody gets through, forget a handgun, but with a non-metallic improvised explosive device, something like that, on Christmas Day 2009, something like that, then that will get everybody's attention.
And, hopefully, nothing like that happens, and this shutdown can be resolved quickly and people can get back to work with pay.
BALDWIN: Yes, a disconnect is one way to put it.
John Pistole, thank you very much. Day 24. Appreciate you.
PISTOLE: Thank you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Coming up next, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard off to a bit of a rough start after announcing her bid for president for 2020, how she's responding to questions about her past working against LGBT rights.
Plus, Republican Congressman Steve King leading with the leaders of his own party today in the wake of his racist comments defending white nationalism.
BALDWIN: Controversy already surrounding one Democrat running for president.
Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard just announced her 2020 bid over the weekend.