Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Administration Plans to Defend National Emergency Declaration Which Democrats Call Unconstitutional; 7 States, ACLU Preparing Lawsuits Against Trump's National Emergency Declaration; Stephen Miller: Trump May Veto House Democrat's Planned Resolution of Disapproval on Emergency Declaration; Protests Against National Emergency Planned Today; Trump Accuses McCabe, Rosenstein of Treason after McCabe Confirms 25th Amendment, Wearing Wire Claims. Sen. Lindsey Graham Wants to Investigate McCabe/Rosenstein 25th Amendment Conversation; Sources: Police Believe "Empire" Actor Orchestrated Attack. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] HADAS GOLD, CNN REPORTER: There were a few recommendations in this report. But the question is, how much of the U.K. government will take this into account and turn this into effective legislation that will cause Facebook to really change its ways.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And what authority do they have to enforce it? And what does it mean here in the United States? We will watch it all. It's a really important headline.

Thank you for bringing it to us.

Thank you for joining me today. I'm Poppy Harlow.

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

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Welcome to a special President's Day edition of "AT THIS HOUR."

The White House is gearing up and ready to throw down it appears. The Trump administration going on the attack to defend the president's decision to declare a national emergency to get more money for a border wall. The move would put money for a wall by diverting billions of dollars congress allocated elsewhere, like to military construction, like to disaster relief, and more. In doing so, the president is going it alone and going around Congress.

Democrats like Congressman Adam Schiff say this move is unconstitutional.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D), CALIFORNIA: This is the first time a president has tried to declare an emergency when Congress explicitly rejected funding for the particular project that the president is advocating. In saying just the other day that he didn't really need to do this, he just wanted to do it because it would help things go faster, he is pretty much daring the court not to strike this down.


BOLDUAN: And lawsuits could be coming. We will speak to the attorney general of California, who is threatening that later in the show.

But will Congress step in? We'll have to wait until they get back from recess next week to find out.

Protests opposing the national emergency are planned across the country today.

So where do things stand at this moment?

CNN's Sarah Westwood is traveling with the president in Florida where he is spending the holiday.

Sarah, what are you hearing there?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, the White House has been making clear over the past several days that the president does intend to defend his national emergency declaration from the courts and from Congress. The Trump administration will have to fight these two separate battles over the coming weeks and months on legal fronts. California and at least six other states are preparing lawsuits and the ACLU, among other groups, are readying for a court fight.

On the congressional front, House Democrats are planning to pursue that resolution of disapproval to try to stop the president from using his executive authority in this way. That could gain some traction in the Senate.

But top advisor, Stephen Miller, said that the president may be willing to veto the measure if it reaches his desk. Take a listen.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The president will protect his national emergency declaration, Chris. I know we're out of time but I want to make this point. There's no threat --



MILLER: He will protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.


WESTWOOD: Across the country today, protests against the president's national emergency are planned. And those protests come amid uncertainty about where exactly the administration will be getting the roughly $6 billion in additional federal funds that Trump is trying to unlock with this national emergency declaration. Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan said he would start reviewing what programs at the Pentagon might get cut. Keep in mind that about half of the money is coming from military construction funds, which means some existing projects may be on the chopping block. Because of these legal and congressional challenges, Kate, the administration may not be able to touch some of this money for a long time.

BOLDUAN: That's absolutely true. When it's going to happen and how it's going to go down is unclear.

Thank you, Sarah. Really appreciate it.

While President Trump is not talking about his national emergency so far today, he is focused on a new interview by the former acting director of the FBI. Andrew McCabe, speaking with "60 Minutes" for the first time since he was fired by the president. The full interview released last night and the president this morning calls McCabe's story deranged.

McCabe is the first official to go on the record to confirm there's discussion in the chaotic aftermath of the Comey firing of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office. McCabe also confirms a conversation among himself, the number two at the FBI, and Rod Rosenstein, the number two at the Justice Department, about wearing a wire to record conversations with the president. Listen.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: We talked about why the president had insisted on firing the director and whether or not he was thinking about the Russia investigation and did that impact his decision? And in the context of that conversation, the deputy attorney general offered to wear a wire into the White House. He said, "I never get searched when I go into the White House. I can easily wear a recording device. They wouldn't know it was there."

Now, he was not joking. He was absolutely serious. And, in fact, he brought it up in the next meeting we had.


BOLDUAN: In response, the president took to Twitter accusing them of treason.

CNN's Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department with more.

Laura, McCabe talked about why he and Rosenstein launched the counterintelligence and obstruction investigations into the president. Can you lay that out for us?

[11:05:13] LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: He did, Kate. It was a remarkably candid interview on many levels. But in his own words, McCabe describes for the first time how he personally initiated the investigations into President Trump as officials were concerned. And they were trying to answer two big questions. Did the president fire former FBI Director James Comey in order to impede the Russia investigation in some way? And, two, if he did, did he do it on behalf of the Russian government?

McCabe goes on to explain it wasn't just the firing of Comey that had the bureau's antennas raised but it was also the president's behavior and his own words. Take a listen to how McCabe explains it.


MCCABE: The president had gone to Jim Comey and specifically asked him to discontinue the investigation of Mike Flynn, which was a part of our Russia case. The president then fired the director. In the firing of the director, the president specifically asked Rod Rosenstein to write a memo justifying the firing and told Rod to include Russia in the memo. Rod, of course, did not do that. That was on the president's mind. Then the president made those public comments that you referenced both on NBC and to the Russians, which was captured in the Oval Office. Put together, these circumstances were articulate facts that indicated that a crime may have been committed. The president may have been engaged in obstruction of justice in the firing of Jim Comey.


JARRETT: Now, we don't know exactly what the president meant when McCabe says he was pressured to include the firing or, rather, to include Russia in the memo that Rod Rosenstein used to initially fire Comey. It was used as the pretext to fire Comey. We don't know what the president wanted the deputy attorney general to say there.

As for the 25th Amendment and the wire remarks, Rosenstein has said that McCabe's characterization is inaccurate. But the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, is looking into this and says he wants to call for an investigation and get to the bottom of exactly what Rosenstein has said -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Laura, great to see you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

A lot to get through on this. Joining me now is CNN law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell, a former FBI special agent and he also served as special assistant to the former FBI Director Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe. And CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig, is here, former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York.

Guys, thank you so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: Josh, you worked with McCabe. What was your reaction in watching him lay out all of this on "60 Minutes?"

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: It's fascinating to hear him now speaking out in his own words. As we know. this is someone who served as a punching bag for President Trump for over a year. This is the person who has been described as leading this deep state, now the president says a coup against him. Thus far, we haven't heard from him. We've had statements from his lawyers. This is now him telling his side of the story. It was interesting, riveting to hear him talk about what the issues the FBI had to grapple with on the inside as they tried to determine whether or not the president obstructed justice.

To be sure, we can't lose sight of the fact that McCabe opened himself up to credibility issues by lying to the inspector general. A lot of this will come down to who the public believes, the president of McCabe, Rod Rosenstein or Andrew McCabe. We have already seen the president come out blasting. As he continues to fight back, the one thing that will be interesting to watch, as former investigator, is when the president says that these are lies and that he denies it, but the one thing he always fails to leave out is, I am confident that a full investigation will prove me innocent. As a former investigator, I think that is telling.

BOLDUAN: That is interesting and something you would hear often from leaders in the past. You never hear that from President Trump.

Elie, in the chaos that is every day, I do think it should not go without note how extraordinary it is to hear someone of the level that McCabe was at the FBI laying out the things that he says happened and the discussions that were had while he was the acting and deputy director of the FBI. I mean, it truly is extraordinary. The fact that McCabe makes the case that Rosenstein brought up wearing a wire to record conversations with the president, not once, not once, but twice, and also that he was serious, not joking, which had been suggested when this first came to light. I do wonder if Rosenstein denies that characterization.

But what would it take for the deputy attorney general to raise this possibility with the deputy director of the FBI?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: An awful lot. It is incredibly precipitous step to have the deputy attorney general wear a wire to the president. Any one of those things, either the deputy attorney general wearing a wire or anybody recording the president is completely unprecedented. I think getting that insight from McCabe into what was happening in the room at the time reflects poorly on a lot of people, first of all, the president. The president's behavior was so erratic and so concerning that they were talking about taking these extreme measures. And also the FBI doesn't look great here. I think the talk of the 25th Amendment and wiring up against the president are drastic and not quite called for legally. I think what the FBI did that was right and smart and correct was setting up those investigations of obstruction of justice, the counterintelligence investigation to protect themselves in case the president started firing people, shutting things down. They knew they needed to have that security in place.

[11:10:42] BOLDUAN: Josh, does it surprise you that when McCabe said, at the end of the "60 Minutes" interview, that the memos that he took after his interactions and conversations with the president, memos that he put together, that they are with the special counsel, does that surprise you at all? CAMPBELL: Not at all. He is a key witness. If you look back at the

timeline when this kicked off, the Robert Mueller investigation, the FBI was trying to determine what to do with the existing Russia investigation. Did the president fire Jim Comey in order to obstruct an ongoing investigation, which now is rolled into what Mueller is looking at as possible collusion and coordination and any other legality that may have taken place by those in Trump world. It doesn't surprise me at all.

One thing that's interesting, for all the bluster that we have seen, these attacks on Andrew McCabe, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is what he told the special counsel when he was interviewed, laying out the facts. If you are inside the FBI, the attacks are highly insulting. It is a lot of noise. Someone like Andrew McCabe, to take the notes, contemporaneously docyument his discussions with the president, and hand them over, those will speak for themselves. A lot of this P.R. nonsense back and forth is a lot of noise. We'll have to see what Mueller does with what Andrew McCabe has and how it impacts the investigation.

BOLDUAN: That is very true.

Let me play for you both another moment in the "60 Minutes" interview where McCabe describes a story when President Trump said that he believed Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence about a North Korean missile launch. Let me play it for you.


MCCABE: The president launched into several unrelated diatribes. One of those was commenting on the recent missile launches by the government of North Korea. Essentially, the president said he did not believe that the North Koreans had the capability to hit us here with ballistic missiles in the United States. He didn't believe that because President Putin told him they did not. President Putin had told him that the North Koreans don't actually have those missiles.

SCOTT PELLEY, CORRESPONDENT, "60 MINUTES": And U.S. intelligence was telling the president what?

MCCABE: Intelligence officials in the briefing responded that that was not consistent with any of the intelligence our government possesses, to which the president replied, "I don't care, I believe Putin."


BOLDUAN: Josh, the president has publicly stated he takes Putin's word over U.S. intelligence before. He's said that before. What's your reaction when you hear that?

CAMPBELL: This is another example, allegedly, of the president of the United States siding with a hostile foreign government over his own Intelligence Community. As I listened to Andy McCabe's interview, one thing that struck me is, we never see it go the opposite direction. There's never a great revelation that shows the president talking tough about Vladimir Putin or doing something very tough. It always leads towards capitulation. That said, and again, it's important for our viewers to understand that the description -- the conversation that Andy was describing, he learned that second hand from an FBI official --


CAMPBELL: -- who told him about that. That is important to remember. It is potentially beneficial for him. He has credibility issues to grapple with. But the fact that there's another person that may be --


CAMPBELL: -- a witness who can corroborate this, maybe in the Oval at the time, I think may lead credence to this astonishing revelation.

BOLDUAN: Elie, let me ask you, the now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, has come out strongly against McCabe following this interview and he says, regarding the 25th Amendment conversation, he wants to investigate. Let me play you what he is now saying.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The whole point of Congress existing is to provide oversight of the executive branch. So I promise your viewers the following, that we will have a hearing about who is telling the truth, what actually happened.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Will you subpoena McCabe and Rosenstein to appear?

GRAHAM: How can I not if that is what it takes?


BOLDUAN: Do you think McCabe and Rosenstein could be in trouble here?

HONIG: McCabe has separate problems. How can you be in trouble for simply considering what your options are? I think the kind of hearing Sen. Graham is talking about is just a dog and pony show. It will accomplish nothing. It will be political theater. McCabe does have problems. He was caught being untruthful with the inspector general of the Department of Justice. In trying to resolve that credibility, you have to look at the tendencies of the parties. One thing that has defined the president from the start is that he has never been able to keep his hand off of DOJ and FBI. He's undermined the independence of both of those agencies and he has gotten himself into a lot of trouble, as well.

[11:15:14] BOLDUAN: Yes. I think there's much more to come.

HONIG: You bet.

BOLDUAN: As Lindsey Graham was telling us right here.

Thanks. Great to see you, Elie.

HONIG: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Josh. Great to see you, as well.

Coming up for us, a stunning new twist in the alleged attack against "Empire" actor, Jussie Smollett. Was it a hate crime or was it a hoax? We have much more on that ahead.

Plus, some of the top 2020 Democrats are spending their President's Day in New Hampshire. A shocking choice or not at all. Which candidate has the early edge in this key primary state? We will go live to Manchester.


[11:20:02] BOLDUAN: Was it a brutal hate crime or an elaborate hoax? That is the question facing investigators in Chicago in a case involving actor, Jussie Smollett. Two law enforcement sources are telling CNN the Chicago police believe the actor paid two men to stage the assault that he reported to police last month. Smollett's attorneys deny that. And police now want to talk to him again.

CNN's Ryan Young is in Chicago with the latest.

Ryan, what are you hearing about all of this right now?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is so confusing with all the twists and turns. We have been following it since the beginning when we found out last week that two men have been taken into custody. We thought maybe police were making an arrest and they were going to go forward with charges. All of a sudden, Friday, the two men are released. We now know the two men, who are brothers, Nigerian brothers, are working with the police department. They have given their cell phone to police and you know there are data dumps going on right now. Detectives want to talk to the actor again. All of this is setting up something that's interesting. In fact, they have financial records from the two brothers that say one of them bought the rope found around Smollett's neck.

The actor has fought back saying, why don't people believe me. Listen to the interview her gave last week.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: Who the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) would make something like this up or add something to it or whatever it may be? I can't even -- I'm an advocate.


YOUNG: In a statement to CNN Saturday night, Smollett's attorneys wrote, in part, "As a victim of a hate crime who is cooperating with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has been further victimized by claims attributed these alleged perpetrators that say Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth. And anyone claiming otherwise is lying."

Now you have the statements and him saying something in the interview. I can tell you something else. Chicago police want to talk to the actor again. They have reached out to his attorneys and hoping to get him back in so they can figure this out.

BOLDUAN: I can believe that.

Ryan, thank you so much.

Joining me now, CNN legal analyst, Joey Jackson, for more on this.

Joey, does any of how this has played out and what we have seen, does any of this -- I don't know -- make sense to you from what Smollett says to what the Chicago police are saying?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is troubling and I think people were troubled from the beginning, predicated on a number of things. Number one, you wait 40 minutes to call the police. Number two, you still have a noose around your neck. Number three, you still have your Subway sandwiches with you. It goes all the way down to the line. Now you determine the two people of interest, which a person of interest, you may know something about it. They were suspect and then they were let go. And the problem is that the police are starting to get hardcore evidence such as Ryan mentioned.


JACKSON: When you have a receipt of the actual noose found around your neck, that is troubling. In addition to claims they're making that these brothers, there was a payment made to me so that I can do this. And other indications and reports that there was sort of a play act before that. So they rehearsed what they were going to do. You see it all unraveling. In addition, when you are a victim, and police ask you for phone records, they are not looking for a general search as to what your tendencies are. They are looking for evidence as it relates to your claims. For him to not turn it over -


JACKSON: -- it's troubling. Who knows what happened. As they are piecing it together, it is looking an awful lot like he may turn from victim, that is Smollett, to potential defendant.

BOLDUAN: If you were Smollett's attorney right now, what would you be advising or doing?

JACKSON: Let's start here. The police are looking to call him back in, to question him. That's a no-no. He can't do it. He is already locked into the story he's already told the police.

BOLDUAN: You would advise him to not?

JACKSON: He can't. How can he do that? Now, Kate, you are not a victim of a crime. You are a potential defendant. Make no mistake about it, it is a criminal act to file a false incident. It is in the criminal variety of a felony and spending three years in jail. So when you go back in --


BOLDUAN: That is how serious it is?

JACKSON: That's how serious it is. Let's talk about why. You can't have people filing false reports because you are diverting resources from other instances --


BOLDUAN: That is coming up when you are talking about in Chicago.


BOLDUAN: People have been raising -- a 1 year old was killed in Chicago. Was it this many resources --


BOLDUAN: Is that what every -- worse-case scenario -- hate crime is horrible. But homicide is something --


JACKSON: Of course. And no matter what the crime, Kate you have people, 12 detectives who are spending time, energy, money and everything else to get to the bottom of something when you have something else going on. That is why there's a big -- it's a problem. Because there's a real -- prosecutors and police don't want people submitting false claims. So to prosecute him sends the message of a lack of tolerance for us to put up with this and that's why --


[11:25:09] BOLDUAN: Especially, especially how high profile this is now.

JACKSON: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: What happens if it is -- if it is found that this was orchestrated?

JACKSON: I think the police have been very responsible, I will say, in not jumping to conclusions. You might remember that when reports came out that it might be iffy, and we said, hey, wait a second, this this is not coming from us. What happens is they can convene a grand jury and look to indict Smollett for filing this false claim, look to prosecute him and look to go forward against him. That's why I would not suspect that he would be back in the police department giving another version. They have all the fact. That's the police. They have the evidence. They will be locking him into the story and that will come back to bite him in the event that this is not true. BOLDUAN: Something is going to happen. Something is going to give.


BOLDUAN: We'll see what it is.

Thanks, Joey. Really appreciate it.

JACKSON: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, 2020 candidate, Amy Klobuchar, gets ready to make her case to voters during tonight's CNN town hall. How can the Senator set herself apart in a crowded and ever-growing Democratic field? That's next.