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U.S. Intelligence Chiefs Testify on Top Threats to U.S.; Matt Whitaker Says Mueller Probe is Close to Being Completed; Interview with Senator Bob Casey (D-PA); Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 29, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: She is, she thinks it protects her more. It's really, really interesting, Matthew. Thank you for that reporting.
All right. It is the top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. 7:00 a.m. out West. I'm Poppy Harlow.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Any time now the former Trump campaign adviser who was rousted out of bed by the FBI last Friday morning will show himself at the federal courthouse in Washington. Roger Stone due to be arraigned on seven counts arising from his allegedly dishonest testimony to Congress about the Trump team's outreach to WikiLeaks in 2016. And there are strong indications this morning that the latest target of the special counsel indictment may be one of the last.
HARLOW: That's right. We're watching this hearing. Take a look. These are live pictures from Capitol Hill. It has just started. It's a worldwide threat assessment hearing. It happens every year. The leaders, all of the main U.S. intelligence community leaders, are there. And you will hear from them.
Now this is really significant. Despite the president's claim just in December that ISIS is defeated in Syria or nearly so, the intel leaders, Dan Coats, DNI, they're warning that that's not the case and that the terror group still, quote, "commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria," and those fighters in his words, quote, "very likely will continue to plot against the U.S."
We cannot overstate how significant that is. Let's go to Manu Raju. That's -- I mean, that is really big. And this is just the beginning.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is just the beginning and think of it here a much different tone from these National Security leaders than you're hearing from the president himself and those remarks, Poppy, that you're referring to about ISIS, significant given what the president has been saying over and over again that ISIS is essentially defeated and that's one reason why U.S. troops need to come out of Syria just to give a sense of what Dan Coats, the director of Nationally Intelligence, just said.
He did say that ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria and maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks, and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world despite significant leadership and territorial losses. So that is not the message that we are hearing from the White House and certainly not the message the president has delivered in the aftermath of the decision last month to announce a withdrawal from troops from Syria.
So these divisions I think they're going to become more pronounced as this hearing goes on and as members start to question these National Security leaders. This is a very significant hearing. So that was a significant piece of news at the onset of this hearing that is just starting here -- Poppy.
SCIUTTO: It's become a consistent pattern, has it not, Manu, where the intelligence community contradicts the president's campaigns? It just isn't the intelligence to back up the claims on ISIS. But also in North Korea, the president in June last year said there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.
SCIUTTO: You're hearing, though, from the director of National Intelligence here that in fact that's just not true. What is he saying?
RAJU: Yes, that's right. This was also another remarkable bit of news at the beginning of this. He said that there are four major concerns for the U.S. globally. He said China, laid out concerns about Russia much starker than he has about -- than the president has, talking about Iran. And he talked about as you mentioned North Korea. The president said that North Korea would completely denuclearize. The president has been very rosy about the outlook about North Korea. While they have halted testing, he said it's very clear that North Korea has no intention of giving up weapons of mass destruction. Here is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival. Our assessment is bolstered by our observations of some activity that is inconsistent with full denuclearization.
While we assess that sanctions on exports have been effective and largely maintained, North Korea seeks to mitigate the effects of the U.S.-led pressure campaign through diplomatic engagement, counter pressure against the sanctions regime and direct sanctions evasion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So, again, that is a much different assessment than what we've heard from the president since his meeting with Kim Jong-un last year. Afterwards he of course tweeted that the world is much safer, that North Korea has essentially agreed to denuclearize. Well, that's not the view of the president's own intelligence community, his own director of National Intelligence, saying that they won't completely denuclearize, they won't give up their weapons of mass destruction, there is no sign that they will. So pretty remarkable development here at the beginning of this hearing -- Jim and Poppy.
[10:05:04] HARLOW: Manu, thank you. It is indeed remarkable.
SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, you ignore the intelligence community on its assessment about interference in the election, ignoring it on a number of fronts. It is consequential.
SCIUTTO: We have a lot of news this morning. At the D.C. federal courthouse, Roger Stone, he's going to be arraigned at the top of the hour here.
We have Sara Murray I believe at the courthouse now. What do we expect to see today as this happens?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So we are waiting for Roger Stone here at the courthouse. He's going to be arraigned today here in D.C. He's facing seven charges there for obstruction of justice, witness tampering, lying to congressional investigators. And we are expecting him to plead not guilty.
Now this comes as we're getting some interesting news from acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. He's predicting the end of the Mueller probe. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, I have been fully briefed on the investigation. And, you know, I look forward to Director Mueller delivering the final report. But right now, you know, the investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as we -- as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: Now obviously that comment raised a lot of eyebrows because we've heard next to nothing from the Department of Justice about the timeline for Mueller's work. And there is another indication that the idea that it's wrapping up it may be a little bit relative. That has to do with Andrew Miller, another associate of Roger Stone. He's been challenging a subpoena for grand jury testimony as well as Mueller's authority.
His lawyers heard from the government that they are still pursuing his testimony. That's an indication that the government could be pursuing more indictments, more charges against Roger Stone in the future.
Back to you, guys.
SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, at the courthouse. We know you'll keep us up to date.
HARLOW: Yes. SCIUTTO: CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell, former FBI
special supervisory agent, and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, former assistant U.S. attorney for the great Southern District of New York.
Elie, help -- you know, for folks at home I was, you know, conscious, having trouble keeping track of all of this stuff, so you have the acting attorney general say yesterday this thing is close to being wrapped up. There's been a lot of theorizing about that in folks following this case. But then you had a defense attorney for Andrew Miller who worked for Stone being told that the special counsel still wants his testimony. What does that mean? I mean, as you're reading the tea leaves here, is it close?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think so. Look, the phrase close to being wrapped up or close to complete, as Sara said, is completely relative. Does that mean we're two weeks away? Does that mean we're six weeks away? Something people need to understand, criminal investigations don't just end like you're running a race and you break the tape, and that's it. They carry on as far as the evidence and the facts dictate.
I've had cases of my own, I thought I was close to done, I didn't announce it publicly. It's a terrible tactical move. But I thought it was close to done and something new breaks. A new witness comes in.
HARLOW: Why would you do that?
HONIG: If you watch the clip it looks a little bit like he just panics. He doesn't have a way to wrap up. It could be that he believed while there's a lot of public interest in this case and so I need to update the public. But I think we've seen that making comments on pending investigations is only problematic. Once you go down that road it is really hard to turn back. So I think he'll regret that.
HARLOW: I do wonder what the impact of a superseding indictment could be on all of this with Roger Stone and Andrew Miller, for example. What's the actual sort of real effect?
HONIG: Yes, look, every indictment stands on its own. Even if Mueller declared tomorrow I'm done, we still have Roger Stone. He was just charged. Look at the loose ends that we know about. Even sitting here right now. Roger Stone, that case just started. It's going to take months to get that to trial or a plea. Maybe he cooperates. If he cooperates, there's a whole new bunch of new avenues. We still have Paul Manafort needs to be sentenced. Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, both of their cooperations continuing. They still need to be sentenced.
SCIUTTO: Good point.
HONIG: We have open matters in the Southern District. We have open matters in the District of D.C. We have state attorneys general. We have the subpoena battle with Andrew Miller.
HARLOW: A lot.
HONIG: And on and on.
HARLOW: On and on.
HONIG: The point is I'm a little skeptical.
SCIUTTO: All right. So we got to be patient again.
Josh Campbell, you've been around the Justice Department, the bureau, for quite some time. The attorney general says that he's been fully briefed on the investigation. And that's his right. He is overseeing the investigation. He has not recused himself.
Based on your knowledge of how things work, would we then expect if he has briefed the president on the status of the investigation and perhaps given him some proprietary information about what the investigation has learned?
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I sure hope not. And that's what a lot of us fear when Whitaker was actually brought in on the scenes. Is this someone who is going to be put into place either to end the Mueller investigation, to constrain it or to serve as a, you know, source of information for the president on the status of this ongoing investigation?
Now what we run afoul of here is this norm that there is separation between the White House and the Justice Department on any investigation especially one that involved the president of the United States. So if the acting attorney general is giving the White House a heads up on what to expect that would be highly inappropriate.
[10:10:01] And I would say to the question, I agree with Elie there about, you know, the press conference and the acting attorney general possibly panicking, the one thing I would say if he did make a mistake, if he came out and said this thing is close to being wrapped up and that was a mistake, then it is incumbent upon him to come out and correct that mistake because this is possibly the most highly charged political investigation, you know, in this highly charged political climate that we've seen. So if he is now signaling to certain element of the population even accidently, he's got to clean that up.
HARLOW: Separately but potentially consequence for the president is Michael Cohen agreeing to behind closed doors testimony with the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill. It's going to happen next, next week, potentially also a public hearing we'll see. The significance of that knowing, Josh, that he lied to Congress before. And the most important thing that those lawmakers are going to want to learn from Michael Cohen.
CAMPBELL: Well, essentially they're giving him a mulligan here. I mean, he's already facing legal jeopardy but they still want to know the truth about these questions that they've asked. Now the House Intelligence Committee, you know, we've seen over the last year and a half, I mean, it's been highly politicized. And you had, you know, this investigation as being conducted. You know, at the same you have these factions that are fighting with each other on the committee. And at the end of the day the public and the investigators on the committee must -- you know, they need to know what the information is, what is true.
And if Michael Cohen lied to them or any other witness lied to them, at the end of the day they need to know the facts because as -- you know, these overseers that are conducting this investigation, they need to get to the bottom of what happened just as much as Robert Mueller does.
One thing that's interesting obviously that's the HPSCI, the House Intelligence Committee hearing, it will be interesting to see whether the House Oversight Committee which might actually be public, whether that takes place and whether we actually get to hear for ourselves what Michael Cohen is -- you know, what his thinking is, what he said, what the lies were, and more importantly what -- you know, what's the truth.
SCIUTTO: No question. Josh Campbell, Elie Honig, thanks as always.
HARLOW: Still to come, a really significant new poll, yes, it's a long way out. But what it shows is that more than half of Americans say they would not even consider voting for President Trump again. 56 percent. Did the longest shutdown in history hurt his chances at a second term?
Plus the White House slaps sanctions on Venezuela's state-owned oil companies in an effort to force out President Maduro. We'll have a live report on what is going on in the streets of Venezuela.
SCIUTTO: And we're watching as the nation's top intelligence officials detail threats to U.S. national security, continuing threats including ones the president said no longer exit.
Stay with us. We're going to keep you updated.
SCIUTTO: There's Roger Stone entering the courtroom.
HARLOW: This is in Washington, D.C. district court. He will plead not guilty to the seven counts against him.
SCIUTTO: And notice that's a Russian flag there. Just to understand the kinds of reception folks get here. You often have protesters, you have often have supporters as well. But that's a Russian flag. Sometimes you've seen that as some of these witnesses have gone into the courtroom.
We're going to continue to watch this. I believe we have Josh Campbell still present here. Josh, tell us the significance of him going into the courtroom again
today. You'll hear from the president, his supporters, these are, quote-unquote. "process crimes," lying before the Senate. Tell us the significance in the broader investigation.
CAMPBELL: You know, it's so interesting, and watching these pictures. I mean, that courthouse, I've spent, you know, countless hours inside there when I was an investigator, sitting before a judge, trying to get them to approve certain investigative activity. And one thing that's so interesting about that courthouse is this is the one place where the president's bluster, where Roger Stone's bluster, where none of it actually matters. Because in this court of law, this is what -- you know, this is where we're going to find out what actually happens, what consequences Roger Stone will face.
[10:15:04] Now obviously we have the arraignment today and you know, we're far from any type of trial. But that is so fascinating to watch that here you have, you know, elements of our own government that are trying to appeal to the court of public opinion. But none of that is going to matter inside of that building.
What will be interesting I think for us is what this judge does with respect to Roger Stone's ability to continue to speak out, to continue to do these press conferences. Judge Amy Berman Jackson is a very impatient person. We've seen in the past that she has no -- you know, there is no question that she will seek to limit one's ability to go out and do interviews if that impacts an investigation.
And at the end of the day, I think it comes down to this. You know, if some -- if the shenanigans taking place in the court of opinion is going to impact her court of law then she's going to put a stop to that very quickly. So we'll wait and see what comes of this arraignment and what parameters are set and then, you know, for the larger investigation obviously what does this mean?
Does this mean that there will be additional investigative activity that investigators will want to seek as far as Roger Stone? Will he actually testify? Will he provide information that is helpful to the investigation? We know publicly he's been very defiant. That may change once he finds himself sitting inside that courtroom.
HARLOW: That's true. That's true. Look, this should be a pretty short appearance today. We expect him to plead not guilty in front of the Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson. But again then you mentioned Judge Amy Berman Jackson who's handling several of the major Mueller cases. That is ultimately who's going to hear all of this.
Josh, thanks very much.
CAMPBELL: Yes, thanks.
SCIUTTO: And Josh also makes a good point there. He said, you've got all that noise outside the courtroom. You got tweets. You got public accusations being made.
HARLOW: But none of that matters. Yes. SCIUTTO: You saw with Manafort. You had a lot of that going on.
Even what looked like attempts at witness tampering and the court process goes on.
HARLOW: There you go.
SCIUTTO: It's a tribute to how the systems work even in this crucible of an environment that we're living in right now.
Well, one week from today President Trump will deliver his State of the Union speech. Of course a week later. That announcement hot off the heels of a phone call between President Trump and the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. We are told that the pair spoke, get this, about infrastructure. But they did not talk about the wall which still remains at the crux of negotiations to fund the government by February 15th.
If no deal is struck, hear this, another shutdown is possible. This as a brand new "Washington Post" poll shows that 53 percent blame President Trump and Republicans in Congress for the shutdown. Just 34 percent blaming Democrats and the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Joining me now is a Democrat. Democratic Senator Bob Casey of the Keystone State of Pennsylvania.
Senator, thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. BOB CASEY (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Jim, good to be with you and Poppy. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: I want to start on the wall because this is so central to avoiding another shutdown here. You have said that a wall won't work. I should note however that you have Democratic colleagues including members of this new 17-member bipartisan panel that's going to negotiate this including Jon Tester of Montana who said that he would be willing to give money for a wall.
Would you vote for or against the compromise bill that would include money for an actual physical barrier on the border?
CASEY: Well, Jim, what I want to vote for I think is what people in both parties want to vote for which is effective border security. That has to be the test. As you know, the bill that I voted for in 2013 by way of example, the comprehensive immigration bill which I hope could be the direction we move in ultimately which is a comprehensive solution to a broken system, not simply border security.
But that bill spoke about -- spoke directly to developing a plan that would involve fencing, infrastructure and technology, those three words. Fencing, infrastructure, technology. That is what the experts tell us we should do to really secure the border. So that has to be, I hope, the focus of the negotiators.
SCIUTTO: But it sounds like there --
CASEY: The appropriation. SCIUTTO: If you're including fencing, a barrier the president says no
longer have to be a concrete wall, it sounds like you will vote for a bill that has a comprehensive solution that includes a physical barrier, fencing included.
CASEY: It's similar to what I've already voted for. The problem, though, is the president has insisted on a wall. And whether he wants to deny it or not, he has said repeatedly not just wall, that word over and over again, but he's talking about a concrete wall. I know he's backed away from that. But the fact remains --
SCIUTTO: But lately he said it doesn't have to be a wall.
CASEY: Right. So --
SCIUTTO: I guess I'm just -- lately he said it doesn't have to be a concrete wall.
SCIUTTO: He would talk about -- you know, and it doesn't have to be from sea to shining sea. So I'm just curious, if a deal comes to you that includes some money for a physical barrier, a fence, not a wall, would you vote yes and would your colleagues vote yes?
CASEY: Jim, I have already voted that way.
CASEY: It's clear from the record. On fencing. Fencing is -- fencing is different. And a wall should not be confused with border security. No serious expert would recommend a wall, even the most ardent supporters of a major border security initiative would not make the case seriously that a concrete wall would be the answer.
[10:20:03] But we do need to focus on the ports of entry which is where most of the drugs are coming in. Secretary -- Commissioner McAleenan, the head of Custom and Border Patrol, has said that he would hope we can invest in that because in terms of sea containers, cargo and vehicles, that's where the drugs are coming in. You want to stop drugs you've got to spend money on that kind of infrastructure.
SCIUTTO: Fair point. We've had Customs -- CBP officials on air who've made that exact point.
I want to ask you on another issue that's going to come before you for a vote, and that is the president's nominee to be attorney general, Bill Barr. As you know, in written answers, follow-up answers to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has still not committed to releasing a full report from Robert Mueller. He said he'd release the findings but has not committed to releasing the full report, making that public.
I wonder if that's a voting issue for you. Will you vote against him because he hasn't made that commitment?
CASEY: I haven't made a final determination yet on Mr. Barr. But I've got a lot of concerns on a range of issues. The one that you mentioned is one of those concerns.
Look, this information has to be public. There are certainly have to be judgments made about intelligence conclusions that might not be public. But I'm glad to hear that just in the last couple of days there is a bipartisan effort to make sure that the results are made public.
There is no way that you can conduct an investigation of this scope and severity and keep it bottled up. It should be something the American people see.
SCIUTTO: On another issue, last night Democratic presidential candidate for 2020, one of your colleagues in the Senate, Kamala Harris, she said that she supports Medicare for all including getting rid of employee-sponsored health insurance program. She did not say crucially how the country would pay for that.
I wonder, do you support Medicare for all?
CASEY: What we need on health care first and foremost is to protect the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicaid. They're my top two priorities. In addition to that, we need hearings on a whole range of issues. If some people want to have hearings on Medicare for all, we should explore that. We should also explore whether Medicaid itself can be used as an option on the exchanges. How about Medicare for 55 and up?
So there are a lot of ideas. What we have not had enough of is a close examination of any of these new proposals. And that's what's needed here. So I'm going to need to know a lot more before we make that kind of a change. And a lot of --
SCIUTTO: A lot of tweeting about it, I was just going to say, but not a lot of actual discussion of the details.
SCIUTTO: I wonder, though, if you're concerned with a promise, a bold promise like that from someone who is getting a lot of attention as a possible Democratic candidate? Are you concerned that the party is being pulled too far to the left to the point where it cannot mount a credible challenge against President Trump in 2020?
CASEY: Well, Jim, that remains to be seen. Look, we're going to have a lot of candidates. The reason the field is so wide open is not simply because folks want to bring change in 2020 and to have a Democratic president, but because there is still I think even with a low unemployment rate still a lot of economic anxiety. And people -- that's one of the reasons why people I think are going to vote for change. But the field is wide open. We don't have one name or one candidate who is going to be in the
lead. So we have to see how these candidates perform, what happens when they are actually on the campaign trail. But we're a long way I think from getting to a consensus. But in terms of the direction of the party I think that remains to be seen as 2019 and 2020 move forward.
SCIUTTO: Final question. As you know Howard Schultz, the Starbucks former CEO, possibly throwing his hat in the wing. To a somewhat angry reaction from a number of Democrats here. I wonder, in your view, would he make Donald Trump's reelection more likely to have an independent candidate in this vote?
CASEY: I don't know. I just don't know enough about the polling or the data that would (INAUDIBLE) that. But I would hope that we can have a scenario in 2020 which is a Democratic nominee challenging President Trump. And I think in that scenario we can win.
SCIUTTO: Senator Bob Casey, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.
CASEY: Thanks, Jim.
HARLOW: That's a really good interview. I mean, part of the reason why Schultz is considering it is because of things like Medicare for all.
SCIUTTO: That's right.
HARLOW: But he says as a lifelong Democrat he said he would be disingenuous if he ran in the Democratic Party because he doesn't think Americans can afford it.
SCIUTTO: Right. Of course Democrats are saying well, make that case in the primary as opposed to an independent.
HARLOW: Sure. Sure.
SCIUTTO: But listen, it's America. If you want to run, you can run.
HARLOW: That -- Eric Swalwell, I think, that was his response actually yesterday.
HARLOW: All right. So headlines are pouring in from this hearing going on right now on Capitol Hill. The FBI director Christopher Wray issuing a major warning on election interference. We'll have more from that in just a minute.
[10:29:35] HARLOW: Welcome back. This is a live look at the heads of the U.S. intelligence community speaking before the Senate Intel Committee testifying about the top threats worldwide to this country in terms of national security right now. The director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, moments ago went against what the president has said. The president claimed in December ISIS has been defeated in Syria. Here is how the director of National Intelligence sees it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COATS: Well, ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria.