Return to Transcripts main page


Fired FBI Acting Director: Meetings Were Held to Discuss Using 25th Amendment to Remove Trump; Trump Calls McCabe "A Disgrace to the FBI"; Rosenstein Pushes Back on McCabe as "Factually Accurate"; Judge Rules Paul Manafort Lied to Mueller Team about Russia Contacts. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] SPENCER BLUM, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: Why was this not done after Sandy Hook or after what happened here or Virginia Tech? I'm tired of people just saying, here is our thoughts and prayers, we care. Stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. Words can only take you so far. We want to start seeing some actions.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Spencer, take care of yourself. We are thinking of you. We are proud of you, too.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ACHOR: Thank you, Spencer.

BLUM: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks to all of you for being with us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

The former and fired acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, goes on the record for the first time, confirming that he and other Justice Department officials seriously considered the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from office. This in the chaotic days after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. What we don't know yet is why.

McCabe laying this out in a new book and in a new interview with CBS, where he laid out for the first time why he launched a counterintelligence and obstruction into the president. Listen here.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, FBI: I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage, and that was something that troubled me greatly.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS ANCHOR: How long was it after that that you decided to start the obstruction of justice and counterintelligence investigations involving the president?

MCCABE: I think the next day I met with the team investigating the Russia cases and I asked the team to go back and conduct an assessment to determine, where are we with these efforts and what steps do we need to take going forward. I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground in an indelible fashion, that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace. I wanted to make sure that our case was on solid ground, and that if somebody came in behind me and closed it, they would not be able to do that without creating a record of why they made that decision.

PELLEY: You wanted a documentary record --

MCCABE: That's right.

PELLEY: -- that those investigations had begun because you feared that they would be made to go away?

MCCABE: That's exactly right.


BOLDUAN: There's that, and apparently much more to come.

In the least shocking response to this news, President Trump going after McCabe on Twitter, calling him "a disgrace to the FBI" and pointing to the fact that an internal investigation had found that McCabe had lied to I.G. investigators about contacts with the media.

Let's get to the Justice Department. CNN's Laura Jarrett is there for us.

Laura, Andrew McCabe speaking out, going on the record, putting his book out there, confirming a lot of what your reporting had seen over the past months going on behind the scenes.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. Confirming it for the first time now on the record. The interview is stunningly candid. One of the most eyebrow raising parts hasn't aired yet. CBS anchor, Scott Pelley, confirming McCabe will say, when it airs later this weekend, that there were discussions about potentially recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to try to oust President Trump from office. And that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, had discussed wearing a require to potentially record conversations with the president.

The Justice Department is pushing back hard on these characterizations, calling them inaccurate, McCabe's accusations. I want to read to you a new statement for DOJ this morning. They say, "The deputy attorney general again rejects McCabe's recitation of events as inaccurate and factually incorrect. The deputy attorney general never authorized any recording that McCabe references. As the deputy attorney previously has stated, based on his personal dealings with the president, there was no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was the DAG" -- the deputy attorney general -- "in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment."

So, a war of words between McCabe and the deputy attorney general. Rosenstein not denying that he said these things. But that's beside the point because he never carried through on it. He never had the intention of actually invoking the 25th Amendment or recruiting cabinet members, of wearing a wire or any of those issues.

BOLDUAN: So I want to get to much more of that in just a second.

Laura, stick around.

Let me add to the conversation. CNN law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell, a former FBI supervisory special agent. He was special assistant to the former FBI Director James Comey. And CNN legal analyst, Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor.

Josh, in your view, what do you think it means, what does it mean that we have Andrew McCabe, according to CBS, on the record saying that, yes, there was talk of the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office and, yes, the discussion was a serious one about having Rod Rosenstein wear a wire to record conversations with the president?

[11:05:19] JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Kate, let me start with some due diligence if I can, because I have a personal connection to this story, working with Andrew McCabe. I want the viewers to know, out of transparency, that I'm biased about Andrew McCabe because I know he is a good man because I've seen him up close and personal. I've seen the way he operates. This is a career public servant who spent over two decades inside the FBI working to catch bad guys and mitigate threats from terrorists. I'll get to his actions in a second, but I think it is important to say that, because he is obviously the subject of this political smear campaign and people have to understand, from people on the inside that worked with him, that this is a good man.

Now to his actions. It is true that the inspector general at the Department of Justice said that he lied. This is an inspector general whose integrity is unimpeachable. So people like me, who were in the FBI, look at that and say, OK, we believe that, that he lied. What it comes down to with the book, all we're going to see and read in this book, we know that what the president and the White House are going to do is say, because Andy McCabe lied to investigators, everything that he said must be a lie. And so --


BOLDUAN: You can see that already in the tweets. Yes.

CAMPBELL: You can see that in the tweets. What I ask people to, and I do this myself, is try to look at all of this through the lens of what an FBI agent would. If you're talking to someone and you have someone telling you something and know that person's credibility may be in question, ask yourself this: Does what this person, is what they are saying, does it track with everything else that I know and other things I have seen? He talks about the president as a bully and liar and this aura of criminality around him, so where you see the claims, ask yourself, does that fit with what I know to be true? And as an FBI agent, when you have someone telling you something, even if their candor might be in question, if it squares with what you know to also be true, you should also credit what they are saying.

BOLDUAN: Shan, when it comes to the 25th Amendment, it's not just how we haven't heard a bit of that interview yet. It's not just what he is saying or how he is describing the conversations, it is also about what we have not heard him say or describe him say that I think was important. What was it that was so bad that had Justice Department officials discussing the 25th Amendment? Do you think it was just the fact that it was just in the days of the chalk time period in the days after Comey had been fired?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. I think that was a big part of the atmosphere. I don't think this was the Valentine's Day gift that President Trump was expecting, this controversy to emerge.

Here, I think, what is extraordinary, is you get a sense of the crisis atmosphere that was permeating the top echelons of the FBI and the Justice Department. We all know that law enforcement is used to calling the shots, to making decisions. They are the ones who will decide when we go in and kick down the doors, if you will. Here you get the sense they were worried about the doors being kicked in on them. These are career, dedicated civil servants, who were so concerned about this situation where they might be shut down, where they could not trust leadership, that they didn't make a political decision. They weren't slamming some politician or the new president. They were trying to make the record to be in a preserved state so that nothing could be done to it later. They are obviously deeply concerned about the integrity of the investigation, the work that had been done, as well as the safety of the country.

BOLDUAN: And, Laura, the pushback coming from Rosenstein and the Justice Department today, I wonder, when you look at the statement, he is denying it as factually inaccurate and not correct. He denied that before, Rosenstein, and he does the same again today. Do these statements hold up with what McCabe is laying out? Can both of these things, both of these statements be accurate?

JARRETT: I think they can be true at the same time. It could be the case, as McCabe says, that these discussions happened. And it could be the case, as Rosenstein says, well, but they were never actually carried out. We didn't wear a wire. We didn't invoke or try to recruit cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment. As Scott Pelley says this morning, they were kind of sitting around counting noses. But we have no reporting to suggest that they made phone calls to General Kelly or any other cabinet member to try to get this plan in motion. It sounds like it was more banded about internally during the chaos.

I think one thing to keep in mind here, is just to highlight the level of mistrust that is going on between both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, between DOJ and the FBI, partly, because of Rosenstein's role in firing James Comey. He wrote the memo that was used as pretext, at least originally, to explain why Comey had to go, because he had flouted DOJ protocols when it pertained to the Clinton e-mail investigation. As we reported before, McCabe was looking at Rosenstein very skeptically because he just had a role in the firing of Comey. And Rosenstein is looking at McCabe very skeptically because of his past and he thinks that he is potentially conflicted because of his wife. The two of them actually battling it out, and as we report, actually fought in front of who has now become the special counsel, Robert Mueller. So the mistrust sort of is permeating these discussions. I think we are seeing the output of that.

[11:10:38] BOLDUAN: Shan, let me ask you about that. McCabe writes about this in the book. There's an excerpt that "The Atlantic" has. It's about how he says Rosenstein confided in him after the Comey firing. Let me read the part for you. "He" -- Rosenstein -- "started talking about the firing of Jim Comey. He was obviously upset. He said he was shocked that the White House was making it look as if Jim's firing had been his idea. He was grasping for a way to describe the nature of his situation. One remark stands out. He said, 'There's no one that I can talk to about this. There's no one here I can trust.'"


WU: That's an extraordinary admission for the deputy attorney general of the United States that there's no one his can trust. I think that really illustrates just what a sense of urgency, how chaotic, and really how rudderless they were at that point. They are just trying to make the best decisions they can in that situation. When you have somebody in Rod Rosenstein's position feeling that way, that is a genuine crisis.

To go back to Joshua's point, when you weigh what kind of corroborating evidence we have here, I think you can toss the political attacks to the side here, because there was obviously evidence of concern and they already had opened and they began looking at this from the counterintelligence investigation. It's not just something McCabe invented to throw at the president. That was already ongoing. He was taking steps to preserve it. Rosenstein is concerned about how his words are being used by the president. None of these people are engaged in active political improper measures. They're trying to do their job with the plate they were handed.

BOLDUAN: Josh, there's another bit of excerpt from the book in "The Atlantic" I want to ask you about. You were with FBI Director Comey on the day he was fired. We've talked about that before. McCabe writes that after a phone call he had with the president right after the firing, President Trump was really upset that Comey was allowed to fly back from L.A. where he was giving a speech to Washington on a government plane. And this is what McCabe writes: "The president flew off the handle. 'That's not right. I don't approve of that. That's wrong.' He reiterated this point five or seven times. I said, 'I'm sorry to disagree, sir, but it was my decision and that's how I decided.' The president said, 'I want you to look into that.' I thought to myself, what am I going to look into, I just told you I made that decision."

You were with Comey on that plane ride back. What is your reaction when you hear that the president -- that that made the president so upset?

CAMPBELL: I have talked to a lot of people about this. The one reaction from the president that we understand is not just him thinking this is improper use of a government airplane but it was the optics. Remember, you had Comey's motorcade. We were traveling down the freeway in Los Angeles. There were news helicopters following. They showed every moment from the time the airplane took off. Now, I've never talked about this part, but actually, when we rolled up to the airplane on the day that Comey was fired, the security agent said, sir, we will pull you right up, you will get off and go right on to the airplane. Because there were press and all these people around us. Actually, I'm reminded that every trip that we had been on, he always stopped to thank the police officers that helped him with the visit. In this case, it was California Highway Patrol. And don't forget that that's what you do every single time. So you thank these people. They're here to help, supporting you. If you remember the scene, it was the last couple of seconds, but as Comey gets out of the car, his security agents go to the plane. He actually button-hooks in front of the Suburban and goes to talk to the police officers. I'm told -- I've heard this story from different people -- that that infuriated the president. This optic, that you have Comey, who is nonchalant, he's just been fired, but his first goal was to go and talk to law enforcement officers. That infuriated him. And in effect, Comey was barred from any FBI space.

The last thing I will say that's a little insight for our viewers here, is that it is interesting hearing McCabe 's version because my version -- as a person who was staffing Comey there the day this all happened -- it was fascinating because I was getting calls from lawyers at headquarters saying, hey, standby, we don't know if you can get on this airplane, the former director

BOLDUAN: Really?

CAMPBELL: -- because we have all of these issues. I got pretty frustrated and, at one point, switched off my phone. I knew that regardless of whether Comey was getting home, I needed to get home. The security agents needed to get home. The pilots needed to get home. That airplane needed to get home. So this was just political nonsense. So it's fascinating to hear McCabe now recount his version that he was also feeling the same way, that, look, this is the right thing to do regardless of how it looks politically.

[11:15:18] BOLDUAN: Your two versions seem to be definitely in line when it comes to what seemed -- I don't know. In the grand scheme, it seems like an insignificant piece of this, like the ride back. It seems to be emblematic and symbolic of where the focus was in the chaos of this aftermath that the president was so angry about him getting on the plane, even that we knew the plane -- I don't know. That thing keeps sticking at me.

CAMPBELL: You're right. And I will add one point. After that, as I mentioned, Comey was barred from FBI space, so he wasn't allowed to come back and pack up his office. I sat there with our staff, their holding pictures and wrapping up all his things, and it all came down to the one view that you had the president watching television and seeing this play out and didn't like the optics.

BOLDUAN: It seems there's much more to come here.

Laura, great reporting as always. Thank you so much.

Josh, Shan, really appreciate it, guys. Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, a judge rules that former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, ruled, after a lot of discussion and debate and court filings, that Manafort lied to the special counsel when he was supposed to be cooperating with the special counsel. The big question now is, why did he do so.

Plus, Congress finally set to vote today, we think, on a deal to avoid another government shutdown. And Vice President Pence says President Trump is still, quote, "not happy with the deal." What does that mean in the end? The very latest, that's ahead.


[11:21:01] BOLDUAN: Say good bye to that plea agreement. Paul Manafort's deal is off and over with the special counsel after a judge ruled the former Trump campaign chairman intentionally lied to Bob Mueller's team and the federal grand jury when he was supposed to be cooperating and working with Bob Mueller's team.

Here is a quick look at the lies the judge found and said the Mueller team had proven. That it is all about his interactions with Russian operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, and the $125,000 he received for legal bills. And about an unnamed separate Justice Department investigation.

Joining me now, CNN's Sara Murray.

Sara, this has been going on and on and on. Had he lied, his team tried to make the case that he had not. The judge rules that he did lie and the plea deal is now -- no one has to be a part of it anymore. Much of it gets back to this meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik. Who is this guy? Why is he so central or becoming so central to Mueller's investigation?

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kilimnik is a long-time associate of Paul Manafort's. He is a Russian. And prosecutors alleged he had ties to Russian intelligence. He knew Paul Manafort was in touch with him and he had done some business with him and he was continuing to be in contact with him during the campaign. Then we learn that Kilimnik is actually someone that Paul Manafort was sharing polling data with during the campaign. And that they continued to be in contact. They continued to meet even after Manafort left the campaign and after Donald Trump was elected president.

One thing that is interesting in this filing is the judge points out that the things Paul Manafort lied about were material to the investigation. So it is clear that Kilimnik fits into some kind of broader narrative the prosecutors are weaving. We might not get that full picture, though, Kate, until we move forward to the sentencing when prosecutors can lay out why this information was so important to them and why it was so important that Manafort was lying about it.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely, that is key.

Great to see you, Sara. Thank you so much.

Back with me for a couple of questions is legal analyst, Shan Wu. He also, for the purposes of this, important to say, he represented Paul Manafort's top deputy, Rick Gates, for a time.

So, Shan, the biggest question, in your time defending the accused and also prosecuting folks like that, why would someone lie on something this big after they have agreed to cooperate with federal officials?

WU: That is a really great question. I think just before I answer that I want to paint the context for Manafort. It's more grave than we have heard about. People say, how stupid, why would he be so arrogant. This kind of situation, he is completely at the mercy of the prosecutors. They only need to prove a breach by a good-faith standard. It is basically completely up to them. He knows he has to completely please them and be truthful. Despite that, despite how easy it is for them to put their thumb on him, he still chose to lie about these really material issues.

So to answer that question, why would he lie about that, he has to be very afraid of something. I don't know what. It could be that the consequences of those meetings really do go to the heart of the investigation, which is, was it about a trade on Russian sanctions, easing up on that? We know that the Republican Party's platform did soften on that afterwards. It could be something like that. He could have been trying to keep that hidden perhaps. I'm speculating, of course. Because if that stayed hidden, the White House would recognize or the president might recognize that stayed hidden, and that ups his chances for a pardon.

Those are all very speculative issues. It really invites us to speculate because the stakes are so high for him.


WU: At his age, to lose the benefits of this bargain, it's a life sentence for him.

BOLDUAN: It seems so dumb. This gets us to the same place over and over again. Why do so many people around the president lie when it comes to Russia?

WU: Right.

[11:25:06] BOLDUAN: Could this all just be personal self-interest? For Manafort, it could be one thing. Could they all -- everyone who has lied about Russia and caught in their lie, could they all have their own separate reason for doing so? Meaning, could this be a coincidence? WU: I think in white-collar cases, where you have smart people who are kind of clever and they have trusted their own instincts for a long time, there's always personal interest. They are not just lying to take the bullet for someone else. They lied because they thought it would help them, as well. The question is, why do they think it would help them to lie about this? That is where the fascinating intrigue comes in. Is it so valuable that they felt it would be beneficial to them to protect it? Sometimes people make mistakes. That happens.


WU: But this extreme pattern of lying is certainly self-interest for them but it also reflects their calculus that there's something about protecting this information that's beneficial for them, too.

BOLDUAN: To get to the core of the answers would be dependent on the people telling the truth about, what is their self interest in all of this.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Shan. Thank you so much.

WU: Good to see you. Happy Valentine's Day.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much. You, too.

Coming up, Congress is set to vote on the spending bill that would keep the government open, would avoid another disaster of a government shutdown. The president has signaled that he will sign it. But that won't be the end of the border wall debate, of course.

Stay with us.