Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
Trump Says He Never Worked for Russia; New Russia Questions; Trump Concealed Details of Chats with Putin; TSA Lines Suffer From Shutdown; Barr Commits to Mueller Probe. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired January 14, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Many of the dozen or so times we've seen something this -- like this before.
All right, that's all the time we have. Great panel, as always.
Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. Briana Keilar starts right now.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Phil.
I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, it's one of the most extraordinary things you'll ever hear, the president of the United States of America having to deny that he's a Russian agent.
Plus, the secret Putin chats. Why would President Trump reportedly take his interpreter's notes and tell her to conceal what they talked about?
As federal employees work without getting paid in the longest shutdown ever, a White House adviser says they're better off. It's like a vacation.
And CNN's live inside Syria interviewing the very people under threat of being killed once the U.S. leaves.
Up first, I never worked for Russia, that declaration from the president of the United States today. Meanwhile, CNN has learned new details about the FBI investigation into whether he was indeed working on behalf of Russia. The president berating a reporter for bringing up the subject.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never worked for Russia. And 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 ask that question because it's a whole big fat hoax. It's just a hoax.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Another bombshell report regarding President Trump and Russia coming from "The Washington Post." The paper says, the president went to, quote, extraordinary lengths to conceal his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even confiscating notes from his interpreter.
CNN reporter Kara Scannell here with us.
And I want to start with this FBI investigation into whether the president was working to help Russia, because CNN has actually obtained transcripts that detail this internal debate that actually -- that triggered this.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: That's right. So we've obtained transcripts from when some of the FBI officials were on Capitol Hill. And one of those officials, James Baker, who was the general counsel of the FBI at the time, sort of described how after Comey was fired, that within the FBI said he had discussions with roughly six individuals there, and they discussed two extremes, these theoretical possibilities. According to his testimony, he said that they were -- one extreme was whether Trump was acting at the behest of and somehow follow directions from Russia. And the other extreme was that the president was completely innocent of this.
But after the firing and some of these other events that ensued where we had seen, you know, Trump's comments to NBC about Comey and other matters, you know, that this really was the center of the FBI's mind at the time. They looked at this and they said, you know, what -- according to Baker's testimony, you know, what are the extremes of where Trump was on this? And it was something that they then looked into.
KEILAR: It's extraordinary that he has to answer this question, right?
SCANNELL: It really is. I mean the president of the United States has the FBI wondering, is he acting wittingly or unwittingly as an agent of Russia. It's really, you know, so unheard of. And so we kind of learn a little bit from this testimony of just so they were trying to figure out what was going on.
And we may never know because counterintelligence operations, you know, don't always result in any charges and it's just something as they're trying to understand the bigger picture here of Russia's meddled in the election.
KEILAR: But what -- and whatever the findings would be, it just tells you that they felt there was reason to when they looked at the actions, though, right, of the president?
SCANNELL: That's right, it was enough that it was alarming enough for the FBI to have this conversation. And I know that "The New York Times" was reporting that there was some discussion of some people think maybe the FBI overstepped here. But, nonetheless, it triggered enough alarm with, you know, people at the level of the general counsel within the FBI.
KEILAR: All right, Kara, Kara Scannell, thanks so much.
President Trump is lashing out after those bombshell reports. He's downplaying the lack of details on his private meetings with Putin and called the idea of him acting on behalf of Russia insulting. These reports put President Trump's relationship with Putin under new scrutiny.
I want to go to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. She is in New Orleans where the president is actually about to speak.
What can you tell us?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this is one of the first times the president has been out of the White House since this government shutdown got started. And, clearly, when he left today, he was quite furious about the flurry of stories that came out this weekend, some implying that FBI agents were worried he was acting on behalf of Russia, and he flatly denied it today.
And that answer and that denial came not only after a series of those reports over the weekend, but also after that Saturday night late interview around 9:00 Saturday night where the president was asked by the Fox News host, are you working on behalf of Russia, and he didn't answer flatly and say no. Instead, he called it insulting and kind of sidestepped the answer. And that is why you saw him come out there today and give, in no ambiguous terms, a very flat denial that he is doing anything on behalf of Russia.
Something you can clearly tell irritated him because then he started going off on those former and current FBI agents and DOJ officials while he was out there speaking to reporters. So you can see his irritation in his answers to reporters.
[13:05:11] But, Brianna, I also was listening to Kara there. I think it's interesting how the president did downplay that "Washington Post" report that not only did he not want many people in the room for his meeting with the Russian president, but that he took the notes from the interpreter and also instructed the interpreter not to brief any senior national security officials on what had transpired between the two of them.
Now, the president tried to downplay that, essentially saying it's normal, that he meets with leaders all the time one on one. But typically in those meetings there are other staffers in the room, and the president doesn't typically ask them not to tell anyone else what was said.
Now, the White House is saying behind the scenes that a lot of that has to do with the president's concerns about leaks, but it is raising questions. And he didn't answer a question from a reporter about whether or not he'll release those interpreter's notes from that meeting. So that's still an open question about where those notes even are.
Now, the president is coming here today. He's expected to make some scripted remarks to the Farm Bureau Association here, gathered here in New Orleans. But we'll be waiting to see if he has anything else to say about the series of not only Russian reports related to him, but also the fact that the government is in the longest shutdown in U.S. history. And right now there are no signs of progress or it reopening.
KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins in New Orleans, thank you.
What are the implications when you have reports of the FBI investigating whether the president is working for Russia and the president trying to conceal his conversations with Vladimir Putin?
I want to bring in Mike Rogers, he's our CNN national security commentator, and Lisa Monaco, she's a former Homeland Security adviser under President Obama and a CNN national security analyst.
So, Lisa, just for instance, when it comes to a president meeting with a foreign leader and you have an interpreter, how does that process usually work?
LISA MONACO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So usually, Brianna, what you have, and this has been true across many, many administrations, you'd have multiple people also present in that meeting in addition to interpreters from both sides, from both countries. You'd normally have the national security adviser, the secretary of state, the senior most expert at the National Security Council, who's expert on the topic at hand, in this case Russia and Vladimir Putin. And, indeed, President Trump has a noted expert working on the National Security Council staff, Fiona Hill, who literally wrote the book on Vladimir Putin but yet she was not present in that room.
So what we see here is how President Trump has been handling multiple meetings with President Putin is that he's operating consistent with what we've seen over the last two years, which is to say busting through the norms that have applied in the foreign policy space and in foreign relations.
And what we need to remember, Brianna, is these norms and these normal procedures aren't there just as a matter of bureaucratic -- just for bureaucratic reasons, they're there to protect U.S. national interests. And when you don't have anybody else present except an interpreter who, as the reports indicate, has been told to cough up their notes and potentially have them never see the light of day, when you don't have anybody else present and you have no record of that meeting for our own intelligence agencies to understand, that is really not in the U.S. national security interest.
KEILAR: And, Chairman Rogers, you have the interpreter keeping what happened in confidence, as well as the notes being taken away. You chaired the Intel Committee. How is the intel community normally looped in after a meeting like this?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean it's looped in, in several different ways. But the most important is, what was the content of the meeting and the content of the meeting so that you can base it on how you want to go forward with U.S. policy, either the president's or other policymakers, including members of Congress on the Intelligence or Armed Services Committees.
And here's the big thing, and Lisa was so right in her comments, but the other one is, you need to keep the Russians honest. And having a one on one on -- for that length of time gives permission to the Russians to come up with their own interpretation, and they'll use that in information operations, in conversations around the world with other world leaders about what they said happened in the meeting or they said that the president of the United States did. And that -- not having that catch in that system, I argue, is really not in the interests of the United States national security.
KEILAR: What do you make of the argument of some aides, Kellyanne Conway, for instance, who say, this was an attempt to stop leaks? Because leaks were rampant at that point in time. Do you -- do you believe that?
ROGERS: Well, they do have a leak problem for sure. However, this is not the way you handle it. This is the substance and business of national security in the engagement of all of the apparatus of the United States of America, including all of our intelligence agencies and our Department of Defense. All of that content of that meeting is going to be important to all of those stakeholders.
[13:10:10] So to say that this was about leaks, candidly, I'm not buying it. I think that they wanted to have -- and, by the way, it's okay for the president to want to have a private conversation, but when you're meeting that long on issues that are this important -- and by the way, the optics were bad when he went into the meeting, so he should be even more sensitive to how this looks coming out given all the controversy surrounding these meetings in the first place. That's what just doesn't make sense to me.
KEILAR: And by not having these other parties who are normally there, Lisa, in the room, he's placing more trust in Vladimir Putin than he is with his own top advisers, than he is with his own intel community. What does that tell you?
MONACO: Well, that's exactly right. It just shows yet again that he doesn't have the confidence in his own experts, the intelligence community, and his own experts that he's appointed, by the way, to give him counsel and to be in the room for these meetings.
And Mike Rogers is absolutely right, the danger here is that the Russians are the only ones who know what happened in that meeting, and in those meetings, and then they can put out what they want.
I mean we've seen public reports that U.S. national security officials had to be looking for indications in our own intelligence collection as to what happened in the meeting. But, really, the danger there is, the Russians couldn't put out, for our own consumption, a spin on what has happened, and we know that their expert in doing disinformation operations. I mean it is quite stunning when you think that the only intelligence expert in those meetings, particularly the one in Helsinki that went on for some two hours, the only intelligence expert in those meetings and who has the benefit of what happened there is a Russian intelligence expert, and his name is Vladimir Putin, of course, a trained KGB operative.
KEILAR: This is prompting, of course, many reactions from critics, including Hillary Clinton, who today tweeted, like I said, puppet all along, with a link to an exchange from that 2016 presidential debate. You may recall this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 1,800 nuclear warheads and she's playing chicken. Look, Putin --
CHRIS WALLACE, MODERATOR: But, wait --
TRUMP: From everything I see, has no respect for this person.
HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: What -- in retrospect, when you see that exchange, what do you think, Mike?
ROGERS: Well, certainly the Russians are tickled pink that they can play that important a role in an American presidential election. To me it is shocking, disappointing and worrisome as we go forward.
And, candidly, we had two flawed candidates in the 2016 election, and I think America had to make their choice based on two flawed candidates.
But the Russian played an active role. I don't think anyone's disputing that they tried to influence American voters. That conversation certainly should lead people to stop and pause for a minute. And, again, that was my problem with how the president has handled himself going forward, knowing that there was this controversy about what, if any, relationship he had to the Russians in his campaign to kind of double down on this and not have people in the meeting, not, you know, to hold the interpreter's notes. Those kinds of things just lead to this narrative that the president clearly gets, you know, honked off, which is a technical diplomatic term --
KEILAR: Yes, sure.
ROGERS: OK, on what happens, you know, why people are starting to say, you know, is there smoke here? Is there a fire here? Is there smoke here? Is there a fire here? I -- this is what's, to me, is so maddening about this. And the Russians are enjoying every bit of it. They want chaos in our American political system. And they're using this around the world to say, see, listen, one thing you got with the Russians is, when I say something, I'm in charge, right? And he is, Vladimir Putin.
ROGER: Look at the Americans, they can't even agree with themselves. I mean this is a powerful narrative that we have got to get America's collective head out of our backside on this to move forward as a unified country. Politics should stop where the water's edge, but we need to be unified on what that message is.
KEILAR: Former chairman Mike Rogers, Lisa Monaco, thank you so much to both of you.
MONACO: Thank you.
KEILAR: Just ahead, a member of the foreign affairs committee is going to join CNN about whether Democrats will subpoena President Trump's interpreter.
Plus, on top of all of this, the president's own pick for attorney general tells Congress the Mueller report should be made public, which seems to be at odds with the president.
[13:14:44] And TSA lines getting longer, terminals closing as workers call out in the longest government shutdown ever. We're going to take you there.
KEILAR: This is now a shutdown for the history books. The longest on record, 23 days, 13 hours and counting with no end in sight. Eight hundred thousand federal workers are not getting paid and they're worried about their mounting bills and they're feeling the financial stress of the shutdown. And this as the president's top economic advisers take on all of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN HASSETT, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: 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)
KEILAR: Better off? Well, there are families going without pay right now who certainly do not consider this shutdown a vacation. Unpaid leave, perhaps. Forced unpaid leave.
[13:20:04] Meantime, a new CNN poll shows President Trump is taking the brunt of the blame for the government shutdown. Fifty-five percent of Americans fault the president, while 32 percent point the finger at Democrats in Congress. And things are getting uglier as frustrated TSA workers are calling out from their jobs. This is creating long wait times at the world's busiest airport in Atlanta. Miami International cut back operating hours at some security checkpoints this weekend, and the airport in Houston has closed a checkpoint because of staffing shortages.
CNN's Dianne Gallagher is at Hartford-Jackson in Atlanta. We have Rene Marsh as well here with me in D.C.
Dianne, you're there. What are you seeing? How bad is it?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Brianna, it's the middle of the day. Usually you can get through security in about 10 minutes here. People are taking between 30 and 45 minutes, if you can kind of see through the glass there, to get through at this point in the day. And this is the best it has been by far all Monday long.
Now, we asked about these sick-outs that we see TSA officers that have been doing over the past couple of weeks, I believe first reported by Rene last week. They say they can't give specifics, but they will admit that they are having issues with security lanes. They've had to close some because of the government shutdown.
It is moving slowly, and that is -- that's really not an exaggeration. It took people two-plus hours this morning to get through. We saw people missing flights. There were people crying, not able to get through, not knowing what to do at this point. It was gridlock. It went all the way around through baggage claim. And that's just what people can kind of see with this.
Now, a lot of people we ran into, believe it or not, said they weren't even sure, they were waiting in line. They didn't know about the shutdown. Others were greeted by air traffic controls and their union at the door passing out flyers, talking about how it's affecting them. You can see what's going on with TSA and the backup through security, but maybe they weren't sure about air traffic controllers. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN MCCABE, REPRESENTATIVE, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION: The shutdown must end immediately. Every day, every minute this goes on, the system degrades a little bit -- a little bit more than it was a minute ago. And we can't sustain this as a country. We can't sustain this as federal employees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GALLAGHER: And, of course, look, again, this is the lull, Brianna. We're talking about come this afternoon when we see it pick up again, we likely could be seeing a similar situation to what we saw this morning. They're asking people to show up even earlier to the airport. And, again, no end in sight.
One more thing I want to point out. You see all this Super Bowl literature here on the walls talking about the big game that's coming in about three weeks in Atlanta. Everybody here in this airport is crossing their fingers that this shutdown, not just for their finances and their own stuff at home, but that this is done by then because they've got an extra 1,500 flights coming in around this area just for that game that they're not sure how they'll deal with.
KEILAR: Oh, wow, that is a very good point, Dianne.
Rene, I'm wondering, you see some of these terminals shutting down, you see these shortages really affecting the situation. Is this going to increase?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: You know, with the TSA employees that I'm speaking to say, yes, it will. It will get worse. It's not going to get better the longer this drags out.
And keep in mind, I mean, Dianne is there at the world's busiest airport being impacted by this. They had to shut down security lines because of a lack of staff. Miami is not a small airport either. That's a major hub. So is Houston, that's a major hub as well. So we're seeing this play out at major airports that handle lots of passengers. And the word that I'm getting is the longer this drags on, there is no question that we will continue to see airports taking the stance of shutting down lanes because they just don't have the staff.
KEILAR: Oh, wow. All right, Rene, thank you so much.
Dianne, thank you.
And in less than 24 hours from his confirmation hearing, President Trump's pick to be attorney general is revealing how he'll answer questions about Robert Mueller after criticizing part of the investigation in the past.
[13:24:09] Plus, right after announcing her run for president, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is under fire for comments that she made slamming the LGBTQ community and supporters of same-sex marriage. We'll talk about how she's responding.
KEILAR: Some important comments now from Attorney General Nominee William Barr just a day before his confirmation hearing begins. In his prepared text, which he'll deliver tomorrow, Barr plans to say, quote, it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work. It's believed that the white House does not share that opinion and may try to block the release of some parts of the Mueller report. Barr also says, quote, I believe it is in the best interest of everyone, the president, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people, that this matter be resolved by allowing the special counsel to complete his work.
We have Eliana Johnson with us, as well as Gloria Borger.
Democrats, Gloria, are going to welcome Barr's comments.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. KEILAR: Will the president is the question?
[13:29:48] BORGER: Not so much. Not so much. And I think what is -- still remains unresolved out there, and I know that Barr has just sent a letter to Senator Feinstein trying to explain that multi-page letter he sent about obstruction of justice.