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Russia Investigation: Trump says he will leave Mueller report decision to Justice Dept; Negotiations Underway: Trump Blames Paul Ryan For Not Getting Border Wall Funding. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2019 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: In an eye-opening interview with the website "The Daily Caller", the President says the Justice Department, not the White House will decide what to do with Robert Mueller's final report. "I could have taken a much different stance," the President says. "I could have gotten involved in this. I could have terminated everything. I could have just said that's enough. Many people thought that is what I should do." Of course, many people thought the opposite.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yep. On the other hand, the President says he will, "Think about getting involved in how the FBI makes arrests. This is after that pre-dawn tactical take down of former Trump Campaign Advisor, Roger Stone, a scene the President calls in this new interview very sad.

Let's go to Sarah Westwood. She's at the White House.

A lot of news was made in this Daily Caller. Is the President really pledging a hands-off position on the Mueller Report and on Mueller's Report of the DoJ fully here?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN REPORTER: Well. It looks that way Poppy. President Trump signaling that he may allow the Justice Department to make the decision about whether Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report should be made public, hinting that he will not direct his legal team to try to exert executive privilege over parts of that report to try to keep the public from seeing it. It has been an open question about whether he would try to do that.

Trump also saying in that interview that he hasn't spoken to Acting Attorney General Matt Whittaker about whether the investigation is wrapping up. Whether we may see that report soon. Recall that earlier this week Whittaker suggested he had information that Mueller's probe was coming to an end. Trump saying he don't know, he hasn't spoken to Whittaker about it. Trump wants to see the end of the probe. Something he said before.

And, let's talk about the report comes as bipartisan lawmakers have introduced a bill that would require Mueller to submit at least a summary of his findings to Congress and the public. But, what will happen now under current Justice Department regulations is that Mueller will write a final report. He will give it to the Attorney General. The Attorney General has the discretion about whether to give all, or part of it to the public. So, Trump is suggesting in this Daily Caller interview that he may allow that existing process to play out.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this Sarah, I don't mean to put you on the spot here, but Whittaker, the Acting AG, says he is getting briefed on the Special Counsel's Report. There is some assumption that Matt Whittaker would brief the President on what he knows. Is the President saying , I'm going to take a hands-off approach? Based on your reporting, is there any indication that he has gotten a sense that the report won't be that damaging to him?

WESTWOOD: Of course, President Trump has really continued to attack the investigation as a hoax. Anytime he is speaking about it, he is not letting on anything he knows about it. He's really on offense. We know that the White House, this year, under the new White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, has stepped up in anticipation of the release of the Mueller report. There had been talk that President Trump might try to exert executive privilege over this report, but without a clear idea of what is in it. President Trump might be saying at this moment he is going to allow the process to play out.

HARLOW: OK, Sarah Westwood, thank you. At the White House for us. In the meantime, the Justice Department says Russia has been waging a disinformation campaign to discredit the Special Counsel's investigation.

SCIUTTO: Which, of course, is investigating it. They targeted the 2016 elections. Prosecutors allege that a pro-Russian Twitter account published confidential information from the criminal case that Mueller's team brought against the Russian companies. CNN Reporter, Karen Skinnell has been covering this. Karen, the real concern here is it not for the Special Counsel, is that then he will be required to share with the Russians the sensitive, the classified information, which would be quite a breach?

KAREN SKINNELL, CNN REPORTER: So, that the issue here is really that during the discovery process involving the Special Counsel's case against Concord Management, which is the company that was charged last year along with its owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who is known as Putin's chef because of close ties to the Kremlin. They were charged last year with the social media disinformation campaign.

And so during this discovery process of where the prosecutors shared information that they have obtained with their investigation with the defense, they've revealed some of the non-sensitive information. And so according to the Special Counsel's office some of that information has ended up online out of a Twitter account based in Russia. That includes over 1,000 files. It also includes some altered documents, which the prosecutors say was aimed to give the impression to discredit their investigation as well as some of the information that they call non-sensitive.

And, this comes to a head because prosecutors in this case are now at the point of the discovery process where they would share the sensitive information, which they will with the legal team. The wrinkle here is that they don't want this information to then be shared back with the individuals in Russia who were charged in this. One, because they are saying look what happened when we shared the non-sensitive information it ended up online in some altered state. But then also saying that if they share this non-sensitive information it could actually reveal information about individuals and entities that they have not charged, but that the prosecutors believe are engaged in some kind of interference with US politics.


SKINNELL: So Jim that's where this stands right now.

SCIUTTO: The idea of revealing classified information to a foreign adversary that tried to interfere in elections is amazing. Karen Skinnell, thank you very much. Let's speak to former CIA Chief of Operations in Russia, Steve Hall. He knows a thing or two about how Russia operates here. Steve, thank you. You say that this is straight out of the Russian play book here. Explain why.

STEVE HALL, FORMER CIA CHIEF OF OPERATIONS: Sure Jim. The Russians have been doing this kind of thing, this kind of cyber attacks, propaganda attacks, all under the general category of active measures, for a long time. But this has evolved as we've seen since really before the 2016 presidential elections into a cyber warfare type of aspect too. So, it's using social media, using information that they can get online. And this is a good example of that. Where, the Russians have again taken advantage of, sort of, our open society legal system where the courts require, of course, that both sides have all the information before legal proceedings go on, before you have a trial.

The Russians know this is how it works in the United States and in the West. And so, they just take advantage of that. Get at this information, alter it, which is very interesting and then go after the Mueller investigation, which I think is telling. It shows you how concerned the Russians are about the investigation.

SCIUTTO: Sure, so this is that the non-classified information they have already used. The real concern from Robert Mueller is that they would do the same thing if briefed on classified information. And, it just amazes me that one of the people who that information might get shared with, you have Yevgeny Prigozhin, the guy who funded these troll farms. I know he's called Putin's chef, but what I would say he is more like Putin's lukabotsi [Phoenetic] [00:01:47], right? Because he handles all of his malign activities around the world, mercenaries in Syria, etc. Explain what a breach that would be for US national security to share that kind of information with him.

HALL: Well, if it were obviously shared with this oligarch, who is one of a series of guys, your description is correct, these are Putin's guys who, in exchange for being very rich billionaire oligarchs in Russia, in exchange for that, have to do essentially whatever Putin wants. So, in that sense it would be pretty bad for a guy like that, or any oligarch really to get access to that kind of classified information.

My understanding is that the judge and the courts are contemplating, and the Mueller investigation. So, we're trying to ensure that the most sensitive of this information is protected. And there are ways that our court system can do that. But again, the Russians know how an open society works. They understand the free flow of information. They understand the legal requirements, and they will take every opportunity to leverage that against us, which to me it's quite frustrating, but it is the reality of how Russia plays ball these days.

SCIUTTO: Before I let you go, you saw the President be contradicted by intelligence chiefs that he appointed in their testimony on Tuesday. Then, you saw the president lash out, called him naive. I guess they go back to school. You served decades in US intelligence. Beyond your personal reaction to that, tell me what the affect on US national security is, when adversaries see a US president deny the facts, the intelligence as presented to him by his own intelligence community.

HALL: Yeah, it's not good because I think- There is a lot of bad things that happened after the Annual Threat Assessment Presentation that the intelligence community leadership provided. But one of the aspects as you allude to is the idea that others, in particular, allies will look at

us and say, "Geez, what is going on with the system?"

We have really important intelligence relationships with some of our closest foreign allies. And when they see the President do things like this, when they see the President do things like hanging out in the Oval Office with Sergey Lavrov and sharing sensitive information that happened previously, they really question whether or not they're going to send all of the best information to us not knowing how this president is going to react. So, it's not good for moral in the intelligence community and it's not good for our relationship with our allies. So, it's really a bad thing.

SCIUTTO: Steve Hall, you know a thing or two about how Russia operates. Thanks very much.

HARLOW: So, later today the Republican-led Senate will vote on a measure criticizing President Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan. The amendment offered by one of the President's closet allies on Capitol Hill, that is, Senate Majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and also it's part of a mid-east bill. They've recognized that ISIS and Al-Qaeda pose serious threats to this country. With me now to discuss, retired Brigadier General, Mark Kimmitt. He served as Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs under President George W. Bush. Good morning, and thank you for being here.

We have heard the president say, and we have seen his tweets that ISIS is defeated. He said that in Syria despite counter claims from some of his closest allies in Congress, but ultimately pulling troops is his decision. The President is the Commander-in-Chief. So, my question to you is, what would McConnell's measure accomplish?

MARK KIMMITT, RETIRED BRIGADIER GENERAL: Well, more than anything else, I think it would be a sense of the US senate that while the President does have authority to withdraw forces from Syria, it is against the strong recommendations coming from both the Executive Branch and from

Congress as well.

HARLOW: Earlier this week we heard, it was live during our show, the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, tell not only members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, but the American public that, "ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria." That is directly counter to what the president tweeted back in December saying ISIS is defeated in Syria. We've learned the President is not pleased at all with the fact that he had that sort of direct contradiction from the DNI. Is there any danger, beyond the President not liking that he said it, is there a danger to America to publically have this wide divide on such a key issue?

KIMMITT: No, I don't think it is helpful at all. But at the same time, I don't think they are that far off. Whether they are degraded, whether they are destroyed, those are verbs. The real question is, are they capable of launching attacks into the United States? Are they still an existential threat to the United States? ISIS is in 25 countries. We are in two of those countries. Everyone of those ISIS affiliate organizations want to attack the United States. So, I think it is important that we focus on ISIS as a threat holistically rather than the political debates that we are seeing over how large they are in Syria.

HARLOW: I guess my question is, does it embolden ISIS? Does it embolden the enemy? You know, ISIS claimed responsibility for that horrific attack in northern Syria that killed four Americans, right? So, does it make the world more dangerous for Americans if you have a clear public divide between the head of the intelligence community on this and the president?

KIMMITT: Well, I think when you talk about the public divide I'm not so focused on the divide, I'm focused on the public. I would expect there to be division between the intelligence agencies and between the Executive Branch. That is normal, but it is typically done in private. Having that in public is what is unhelpful and, in many ways, as you say, emboldens our adversaries, and it confuses our allies, as well.

HARLOW: Sure, now that's a great point. Let me ask you about finally about North Korea. The president said yesterday, "There is a decent chance of denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula, here in North Korea. But, a source familiar with the details of the high-profile visit that North Korea's top negotiator this month has made, says those discussions both at the White House and at the State Department have, "Gone nowhere on denuclearization. A second source to CNN agreed with that assessment. Are you troubled hearing that ahead of this planning for a second summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un?

KIMMITT: I'm really not because I think you can use the same observations over the last 30 years. Whether it's in the Bush Administration. Whether it was in the Obama Administration, now in the Trump Administration. We have not made progress with North Korea. We, in many ways, were putting hope ahead of facts. I would hope that in the upcoming meetings with Kim that the President will get tougher, continue the maximum pressure campaign, and let's see if he can do what the last three administrations haven't been able to do, which is to get Kim to denuclearize.

HARLOW: He seems to think he can. He says there's a decent chance of it. We'll watch. Thank you very much Brigadier General, Mark Kimmitt. Appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Interesting conversation. A bipartisan group of lawmakers trying to hammer out a deal on border security to avoid another shutdown. But this morning the President is saying Republicans are wasting their time and he, "Has got this one covered."

HARLOW: Plus the deadly deep freeze is pummeling the mid-west. Several States recorded temperatures as low as the South Pole.

Also, it was a deal touted by the President. One that would bring thousands of new manufacturing jobs to Wisconsin, a State he won. Now that deal is beginning to crumble.



SCIUTTO: This morning CNN has learned that President Trump and his aides are preparing to make a National Emergency Order on the border wall if bipartisan negotiations fail. That may explain why he tweeted this morning that Republicans are wasting their time negotiating with Democrats and that Democrats will never give money for his desired wall.

Let's discuss now with one of the Republicans currently in talks with Democrats bi-partisan negotiation on something to avoid another shutdown, Congressman Tom Graves of Georgia. Congressman, thanks for joining us. I think you have a football game coming up in your state. I can't remember who is playing. But, something like that.

JOHN GRAVES, US REPRESENTATIVE FOR GEORGIA'S 14TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Yeah, something is going on in Atlanta this weekend. But, a lot ahead of that. Actually, I appreciate the President's cynicism here. He is absolutely correct in some cases because he has tried with a lot of great efforts, put a lot of offers out there, just to blank stares from the Democrats. We had our first meeting yesterday, and-

SCIUTTO: Are you wasting your time? I mean, he says you are wasting your time. Are you?

GRAVES: Well, from his viewpoint I can understand that, and after yesterday's meeting, I have serious concerns today as well. Because I don't know that there is good faith efforts by the Democrats at this point. [ 10:20:00] Because we learned yesterday that they in fact do have a Bill somewhere behind a door, lock and key, that is being held back from the public. So, if they have a proposal I think they should bring it forward. And, yesterday as we discussed this, as I asked about it, we really didn't get a lot of answers from them. Since then I received a leaked document that was a summary of that

proposal. I'm just curious why they are hiding that from everybody and I was hoping for transparency and a little bit of sunlight yesterday.

SCIUTTO: The fact is, a number of democrats have been speaking openly. We have been talking with them on the air about what they would accept and what they wouldn't accept. What struck me is that several of them have not ruled out voting money for a border barrier of some kind. And I'm curious as you look for the middle ground here, if you have some money for a border barrier, but less than the more than $5 million that the president requested, would that be enough for you and your colleagues to vote yes?

GRAVES: You know, I'm glad they said that. We have heard a lot of positive comments yesterday about border security and how we all agree. But if they were to review their very own legislative texts, or those, the summary proposal from their own party, it includes zero dollars for additional barriers. In fact, zero dollars for additional agents and phasing out of detention beds. It's a lot of things that I think they are not aware of, and so maybe they should have a conversation with party leadership as well to get everybody on the same page.

SCIUTTO: But I'm asking you, if some of those Democrats are saying publically they are willing to give a little bit, and I know Nancy Pelosi's position. I'm just saying what other Democrats been saying publicly, would you be willing to give, and give the president less than he is demanding here?

GRAVES: You know, we have been really clear about our objective, and it's about providing the necessary resources to secure our homeland. And, we know it's a very comprehensive, it's very complex discussion. It's not binary. It's not black or white. It is actually very dynamic. But you can only begin these negotiations if it's good faith. They are not operating in good faith at this point. If they're hiding their proposal not only from us, but their own membership. Imagine being a Democrat today hearing a Republican now has a copy of their direct proposal, and yet the Democrats don't even have that for themselves. So, I think it starts with good faith. Then we can get into discussions about the necessary resources.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. It's CNN's reporting and others that the president is preparing at least the possibility of declaring a National Emergency to get the funding he wants if he doesn't get it from Congress. In the President's tweet this morning, he seemed to telegraph that a bit saying, you know, I can take care of this. What's your position on that? Would you welcome the president declaring a National Emergency when he can't get from Congress, as the Constitution provides, the funding that he wants for this objective?

GRAVES: You know, what I really respect about the president is he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect our homeland. He certainly has a lot of tools at his disposal. He doesn't have a lot of confidence in this process, and rightfully so.

SCIUTTO: He could be making up a National Emergency? I mean I listened to intelligence chiefs on Tuesday. None of them said it was a National Emergency at the southern border. GRAVES: Yeah, a lot of different opinions about what a National

Emergency might be. But as the leader of this nation, he sees securing our border and our country as his number-one priority. He's never withered from that. He stepped out with a lot of courageous offers, but yet to the blank stares of Democrats each and every time. There is no reason for him to walk away from this. But, for me to even respond about what he may or may not do would be an assumption of failure in a process I am currently engaged in.

So, I'm still hopeful that we as a legislative body can put together a comprehensive proposal that addresses these concerns and recognizes there is a humanitarian and security crisis at our border and it deserves the resources that have been voted on in the past by Republicans and Democrat who authorized all of this. But not only need to allocate the funds for that.

SCIUTTO: Although that was part of the broader immigration agreements where they voted for that funding. And final question, the President, as you know, is blaming Paul Ryan for not getting the border funding he wants. Do you blame Paul Ryan for this?

GRAVES: There is a lot of finger pointing that goes on all the time. I'm not looking backwards, I'm looking forwards. I think this is an opportunity for us to restore trust with the American people, but in order to do that, it has to be an open and transparent, good faith process and effort by both parties. I would like to see the Democrats step up and provide that in the House. And so, I'm going to work hard these next 15 days, but as you know, the House adjourned yesterday moments after we recessed our meeting. So, I'm wondering where are the other negotiators from the House Democrats side? I'm here.

SCIUTTO: We will be watching. Before I let you go, Congressman Graves who is your money on this weekend?

GRAVES: Yeah, I don't really have a team. I will tell you this, I have a Georgia bull dog on both teams. I'm pulling for both my bull dogs that are running backs on either team.

SCIUTTO: Well, we will be watching. Thanks so much for joining us. Look forward to having you back.

GRAVES: Thank you very much.

[10:25:00] HARLOW: All right, the mid-west getting slammed by this bone-chilling, sub-zero freeze again. The death toll is rising now that the brutal cold polar vortex is heading east.


HARLOW: All right, so at least 11 people have died as these bitter cold temperatures.