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Andrew McCabe: We Had Information Trump "Might Be a Threat"; Deputy AG Rosenstein Expected to Leave DOJ in 3 Weeks; Trump Accuses McCabe, Rosenstein of "Treasonous" Act; Trump Ally Hints Intel Chief Dan Coats May Be Fired; Sixteen States Sue to Stop Trump's National Emergency Declaration; Investors Watch New U.S.-China Trade Talks. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 19, 2019 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:27] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Poppy has the day off today.

He was a lone voice on the far left in 2016. Now Bernie Sanders is the newest voice to enter the 2020 Democratic presidential race. It's a crowded one. He's far from alone, even in his most progressive positions. But the Vermont independent says that he has not changed, the country has.

Sanders announced his campaign on the Web in a morning show interview a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN DICKERSON, CO-HOST, "CBS THIS MORNING": Senator Sanders, you're going to run for president?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to run for president, that's correct.

DICKERSON: What's going to be different this time?

SANDERS: We're going to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That would be a difference. Ryan Nobles joins us now.

You're out on the campaign trail with Sanders. What's the level of excitement you're seeing there?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lane for Bernie Sanders. He still has a lot of that loyal support that he had back in 2016. But there are a lot of people pointing out this morning that, A, he's still not officially a Democrat and, B, he is older as you compare to the rest of the field. But the big thing Sanders is going to have going for him is that the Democratic Party has moved closer to where he is on many of these hot-button issues.

And of course back in 2016, many of these issues like Medicare for all, free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage, they were considered to be radical. Now it seems to be the price of entry in this 2020 Democratic field. And this morning in an interview that he did with CBS, Bernie Sanders wants to make it clear to Democratic voters while all these candidates are talking about these issues now, he was the leader. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: In 2016 many of the ideas that I talked about -- Medicare for all, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making public colleges and universities tuition-free. All of those ideas people said, oh, Bernie, they are so radical. They are extreme. The American people just won't accept those things. Well, you know what's happened over three years? All of those ideas and many more are now part of the political mainstream.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: And of course he's got a distinct advantage here because he has a vast network of online donors. That spigot he never turned off from the 2016 campaign. And his campaign telling us already this morning that just by 7:30 and he officially announced it, 7:00 Eastern Time, they have donations pouring in from all 50 states.

So no matter what, Bernie Sanders will be a force to be reckoned with in this Democratic field.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A lot of the other candidates would envy that network.

Ryan Nobles, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Dana Bash, CNN chief political correspondent, and Jeff Zeleny, CNN senior White House correspondent who is in New Hampshire today.

Dana, Jeff, thanks to you of both.

Dana, I wonder, just big picture because, you know, Bernie Sanders, one of his chief advantages in 2016 was he was really the only option B for Democrats. Now you've got a very crowded field including specifically a crowded field left of center, to the left end of the party. Where does he fit into that field today?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's, you know, clearly the original of the modern-day part of that field. But he's now in a crowded part of the field. And I think maybe one of the most telling examples of that reality for Bernie Sanders is a statement that DFA, Democracy for America, just put out. This is a progressive group that endorsed Bernie Sanders early on in 2016.

And now this group is saying that, "Although they did in 2016, blessed with a diverse field of candidates committed to inclusive populist reforms, we're looking forward to seeing how Sanders and the movement behind him make the case for political revolution in a very different 2020 contest." Again, I think that says it all. And sort of on the revolution theme,

you know your history, Jim Sciutto. Sometimes revolutions eat their leaders. And this might be the case or maybe it's not.

SCIUTTO: That is quite a phrase.

(LAUGHTER)

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny, you know, Sanders is right when he says that a lot of those positions that were outliers in 2016, you know, particularly between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, you know, health care for all, et cetera, if they're not main stream, you have several other Democratic candidates who were staking out positions there. Does that make it harder for Sanders to distinguish himself, to stand out in this field?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it does in the sense that he's not the one alternative. He's not the alternative on the policy side. And he's not the only alternative to anyone but Hillary Clinton. So it makes it much harder in many ways.

[09:05:03] One thing that he has going for him, of many things, he's done it before. So he knows what it takes to run for president. He has the supporters, as Ryan was talking about. But one thing that I detect above all from any Democratic voter, any independent voter, they don't know who they're supporting yet.

This is the very beginning of this. But they do know that they want to find someone to defeat Donald Trump. That is going to be the difference maker in this entire election from four years ago. At that point it was an open seat. But the fact that all of these Democrats are running against Donald Trump is going to sort of change everything in terms of how voters are looking for someone.

Speaking of Donald Trump, he just is welcoming Senator Sanders into the race. He just issued a statement just a few moments ago. And of course he is talking about socialism. So Bernie Sanders even running for president again is playing directly into the Trump argument where he believes the Democratic Party, all these candidates simply are socialists.

Now Bernie Sanders is still an independent. He's running as a Democrat. So this is one of the complicating factors here for this party. But no question at all, a difference for Bernie Sanders is that he's going to be compared vis-a-vis can he beat Donald Trump. A lot of Democrats I'm talking to, yes, they want purity but they are also looking for pragmatism. Who can sort of attract voters here. So that is the big challenge for him -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Dana, Jeff, stay with me because there is more to discuss.

Another of a half-dozen senators that are trying for the Democratic presidential nomination wrapping up her first visit to New Hampshire. Of course I speak of Senator Kamala Harris.

CNN's Kyung Lah is traveling with her in Manchester. What message is she trying to stake out there, particularly as her

competition grows in this race?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Getting to Jeff's point about 2020 being a very different game than 2016, the senator, Senator Harris, is trying to stake out a different path, that she is a new path and a new way forward.

I'm at Politics and Eggs. This is a chance for the people in this room, it's a New Hampshire tradition, they get to shake the hand of somebody. They get to see the candidate up close. Something vitally here important in New Hampshire. And this room is absolutely buzzing about Senator Bernie Sanders jumping in.

I talked to some people who said that they are very excited to see a big named jump in for the Democrats. But then I spoke to another woman who gives you the 2020 perspective. She said to me, quote, "I wish he would just go away. I am sick of old white guys."

She wants to see Kamala Harris get in. And she wants to meet her. And to give you a sense, Jim, of some of the energy that we have seen, I want you to look at some of this video. This was the senator's town hall last night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They packed this church. People filled it. Hundreds of people inside.

The fire marshal had to close the doors. They filled the basement, the sanctuary. People outside refused to leave, even as the snow came down hard on them. The senator came outside to thank them and asked them to go inside.

Just one snapshot, Jim, of some of the energy for some of the new people in the race -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Crowd size, something to watch in those rallies.

Kyung Lah, thanks very much. The panel is back, Dana and Jeff.

Dan, if I could begin with you, again this goes to something to the point we were discussing before. But -- so visiting New Hampshire. A key first state. Harris making a point of saying she is not a Democratic socialist. Why does she consider that's so important?

BASH: Well, first of all, New Hampshire is different than a lot of states for a lot of reasons. I think the fact that she's even going to New Hampshire and making the case that she's going to be in New Hampshire is noteworthy. You think, OK, maybe not. Of course she's running for president. Why wouldn't she go to New Hampshire?

There are a lot of neighboring politicians, neighboring candidates who are running. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts, neighbor. Bernie Sanders, Vermont, neighbor. And others who have been there who are better known in New Hampshire.

The fact is, this is Kamala Harris's first trip to New Hampshire which when you think about it, you know, those of us who have covered presidential politics, you know, when the person is born or able to walk and even thinks about running for president they make sure they make a trip to New Hampshire.

The fact that this is her first is I think interesting. It allows them to see a fresh face, but things don't change that much in New Hampshire. If she really wants to make a play in New Hampshire they are going to expect her to be in their living rooms day in and day out. And that is how you win New Hampshire. I don't care what year it is.

SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny, you wrote a great piece about Amy Klobuchar, another of course entrant to the race who's trying to stake out a more centrist position but her willingness to say no to Democratic voters.

CNN of course had a town hall last night. I want to play you one of her answers there and then get your reaction. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: So no Medicare for all?

[09:10:01] SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It could be a possibility in the future. I'm just looking at something that will work now.

LEMON: Yes or no, would you support free college for all?

KLOBUCHAR: No. I am not for free four-year college for all. No. I think that they are aspirations. I think we can get close. I don't think we are going to get rid of entire industries in the U.S.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: That, Jeff Zeleny, is it not, is an intentional message from Senator Klobuchar?

ZELENY: No doubt about it, Jim. And I was struck sitting in that town hall in the audience last evening. She was saying no a lot and not pandering at all. I mean, one thing we see from so many presidential candidates here in New Hampshire, other places, they come and they, you know, essentially say what the voters want to hear.

Senator Klobuchar was not doing that. She said, you know, aspirationally she supports all of these things, but the fact is the government cannot support free college for all. The fact is, in her view, Medicare for all will not work. So she was talking about a more pragmatic approach.

The question is, is there a market for that type of realism? Is there a market for that, you know, political reality here that these things are all very difficult? She's going to try that out. But it's the same thing that she's been talking to voters about. She was in Iowa over the weekend, Wisconsin as well and then here in New Hampshire.

So she is trying to -- you know, she sounded very much like a senator and in many presidential campaigns gone by that is too wonky and doesn't necessarily sound good to voters. But it may sound more appealing to voters in this sense where facts are at a premium, where she was bringing her knowledge and experience here. If that still matters anymore, she certainly has a good argument to make on some of these things.

But with Bernie Sanders, you know, jumping in, all of these other -- you know, the energy is on the left-hand side of the party, will she be able to find a lane more in the middle? We'll see about that. But she certainly is leaning in to that despite how much these winds are blowing from the left.

SCIUTTO: Oh, boy, those Iowa and New Hampshire voters are going to be busy over these next few months. And we've got a year to go.

Dana Bash, Jeff Zeleny, we know you're going to be on it. Thanks very much.

Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe says that he had reason to suspect that President Trump was a national security threat and that is why the FBI opened an investigation. An investigation he says that top leaders in Congress did not object to when they were informed.

Plus, 16 states are suing to block the president's national emergency declaration. How will this play out in court? It's going to be a long battle.

And back on the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has returned to the Supreme Court for the first time after her surgery. We will be there live. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[09:15:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you order a counter-intelligence investigation into the president?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that tantamount to saying, you felt there was reason to suspect that he was a national security threat? Is that what that means?

MCCABE: It is saying that we had information that led us to believe that there might be a threat to national security. In this case, that the president himself might, in fact, be a threat to the United States national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: I mean, those are remarkable words. We've heard a lot of comments about this investigation through the years. But that's a former acting director of the FBI saying that the FBI had evidence to suggest -- they had made no conclusions, but to suggest that the president himself was a threat to national security.

Yes, a short time ago, McCabe also releasing an interview with "The Atlantic" where he says the fact is, we were building to this point for months before Jim was fired -- that of course Jim Comey, we had several cases already opened under the umbrella investigation of the Russia case.

So that suspicion, that evidence being built over months. These are remarkable things to hear from the former acting director of the FBI. CNN Justice correspondent Evan Perez is with me here now. Not only did McCabe confirm the FBI was concerned the president was a threat, but that they kept Congress informed, the so-called gang of eight. How did the gang of eight react?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. I think what McCabe is trying to do a little bit here is push back perhaps on the criticism from the president and the people close to him, that essentially starting this investigation represented some side -- some sort of coup --

SCIUTTO: Right --

PEREZ: Against the elected president of the United States. Take a listen to what else he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCABE: This was a recommendation that came to me from my team. I reviewed it with our lawyers, I discussed it at length with the deputy Attorney General --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you tell Congress?

MCCABE: And I told Congress what we had done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did anyone object?

MCCABE: That's the important part here, Savannah, no one objected. Not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds and not based on the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And there you have his reaction there. He says that the reaction from Congress essentially was that, you know, proceed with this investigation --

SCIUTTO: Right --

PEREZ: He's doing a little bit of a cleanup if you see "The Atlantic" interview. I think a lot of people thought that the -- you know, interpreted his previous comments to be that this investigation was predicated because the president fired James Comey. He's saying it was more than that.

SCIUTTO: There was -- there was evidence being gathered prior --

PEREZ: Right --

SCIUTTO: To it. And listen, it's interesting there, because of course you're hearing from a lot of Republicans --

PEREZ: Right --

SCIUTTO: And the president's supporters saying, this was -- this was a bureaucratic coup, gang of eight which of course included Republicans --

PEREZ: Right --

SCIUTTO: They had an opportunity to say, this ain't going to happen and they didn't do it. You've had this difference in public comments between McCabe and the soon to be former deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Tell us what we've learned from McCabe's comments lately as to -- as to what those actual differences were.

PEREZ: Well, you know what? I think what certainly Rosenstein does not view that some of the comments about the 25th Amendment --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

PEREZ: Some of those comments about wearing a wire, he doesn't believe that those were actually comments were serious.

[09:20:00] You notice that the Department of Justice has put out statements and sort of denying generally what McCabe is saying, but they're not attacking the central premise, which is that Rosenstein may have made those comments. And so now we know that Rosenstein is now telling people that he plans to leave at mid-month in March.

And so what that tells us a little bit about, Jim, is that I think what we're seeing is perhaps the end of the Mueller investigation. We know that one of the things Rosenstein wanted to do was to stay in place at least until he knew that the investigation was either done or almost done to protect that investigation.

SCIUTTO: So the end because it's coming to an end not because --

PEREZ: Correct --

SCIUTTO: He's going to get -- walk the plank, right, on the leadership?

PEREZ: Right, no, we anticipated that this was something he was planning to do already. So I think these comments from McCabe aren't exactly a surprise.

SCIUTTTO: OK, Evan Perez, thanks very much. Let's speak now more about this -- well, you know, Andrew McCabe speaks to our colleague Andrew -- Anderson Cooper tonight on "AC360" right here on CNN, 8:00 Eastern Time.

Here with me now, Shawn Turner, former director of Communications for the U.S. National Intelligence, and Jeffrey Toobin; former federal prosecutor and CNN Chief legal analyst. Sean, if I could start with you, given your years of experience in the U.S. Intelligence community. When you have a former acting director of the FBI say, that the FBI,

the Federal Bureau of Investigation had evidence to justify at least a question as to whether the president of the United States himself was a threat to national security. What's your reaction and how significant is that?

SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE, UNITED STATES: Well, I have a couple of different reactions. One, you know, there's been a lot of discussion about all of the talk regarding wearing a wire and what Rod Rosenstein did leading up to the opening of this investigation.

But I think if you can put all of that discussion aside, and if you can just look at the facts, Jimmy, can just look at all of the evidence that was out there, that suggested that the president, that people around the president, that others who were in the president's atmosphere were having something going on behind-the-scenes, something happening behind the scenes with regards to Russia.

If you just look at that, then the FBI would have been derelict in its responsibilities, derelict in its duties if it had not opened a counter-intelligence investigation to simply ask the question -- what's going on here? And from my perspective, looking at this through a national security lens, they did exactly what they should have done with regards to asking whether or not there was something there.

And while I have concerns about the discussion over wearing a wire and things along those lines, what McCabe did at every turn in terms of going to the general counsel, in terms of talking to the gang of eight, in terms of talking to --

SCIUTTO: Right --

TURNER: His brain trust was the right thing to do in order to get to the bottom of it.

SCIUTTO: He was following protocol.

TURNER: Absolutely.

SCIUTTO: Jeffrey Toobin, when -- let's look at it purely from a legal perspective here. So you're FBI and you've already opened up an investigation into Russian interference in the election and counter- intelligence investigation, and then you have a president who's had made public comments, one seeming to support the views of the Russian president.

But he's also made decisions as president, as head of state to, you know, give the impression that he's trying to interfere in that investigation. From a legal perspective, is that seen in the courts in any investigation as evidence that someone might be compromised in some way?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you have to remember, the FBI has dual responsibilities. The FBI handles counter-intelligence which is not a criminal process, which is simply a national security process of finding out who is trying to interfere with the operations of the American government on behalf of foreign powers.

And then there is also the traditional FBI law enforcement obligation. Both of those are implicated by what McCabe and his colleagues saw in May of 2017. They saw that it looks like Russia is trying and perhaps succeeding in manipulating the White House. That's worthy of a national intelligence investigation -- counter-intelligence.

He also saw that firing James Comey who was running a criminal investigation of the president himself and people around him, that is potentially a criminal obstruction of justice. So it seems to me, McCabe was entirely justified in opening both sides of that investigation and rather than treasonous as the president described him --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TOOBIN: In a tweet yesterday, this was a patriotic act on the part of Andrew McCabe at all costs --

SCIUTTO: Legally, because this word coup is now being or attempted coup, attempted bureaucratic coup being thrown around by the president and his supporters. From a legal perspective, anything that you've seen now, does it substantiate that allegation or from a legal perspective, were these folks, you know, going to the -- trying to do their jobs in effect, right, in the midst of a counter-intelligence investigation?

[09:25:00] TOOBIN: Quite the opposite of a coup. At every step, at least as far as we know, McCabe tried to do things by the book, as we just discussed. He consulted the general counsel, he consulted his colleagues, he consulted the deputy Attorney General. When they decided to proceed, they went to the gang of eight of Congress.

This is how the FBI is supposed to function. Now, it's also important to point out, they didn't bring a criminal case against the president, and they didn't, you know, try to have him removed from office under the 25th Amendment. So all they did was conduct a good faith investigation which --

SCIUTTO: Right --

TOOBIN: Did not lead to anything that would -- that would suggest --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TOOBIN: A coup. So I think it's a completely frivolous accusation.

SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner, Chris Ruddy who is CEO of "Newsmax" or a right-leaning news operation, is speculating that the president might fire the director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, on the argument that Dan Coats, you know, disagreed with the president in public as he did during testimony of the intelligence chief.

Now, to be clear, what Dan Coats was doing, he was expressing the view of the U.S. Intelligence community. I mean, from your perspective as someone who served for a long time in the intelligence agency, if the president were to dismiss him, would that be seen purely as personal about Coats or is it a larger broad side at the intelligence community because it's their findings here?

TURNER: Yes, there is no doubt that, that is a larger broad side sort of attack on the intelligence community. And unfortunately, it's nice we know, it's not the first one. Look, it is the case that it is not unusual for presidents to challenge the Intelligence community on their assessments.

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TURNER: You know, my experience, there have been times when the president has said to the Intelligence community and to senior intelligence officials, go back, look again, make absolutely sure that you --

SCIUTTO: Ask hard questions --

TURNER: Understand -- ask hard questions. What makes this different is that the president isn't just pushing back on the intelligence community. The president actually said, according to McCabe, that he believed Putin over his Intelligence community.

SCIUTTO: Right --

TURNER: Now, that's a completely different --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

TURNER: Scenario there. So yes, I think that if Coats goes, and to be quite candid with you, I think that would be a mistake on the part of the president because the president needs people around him who will speak truth to power and would give him the hard news. But if Coats goes, that certainly sends another chilling effect through the Intelligence community.

I think they need to do their jobs, but it's difficult.

SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much. Sixteen U.S. states now suing to stop President Trump from using his emergency powers to build a wall on the border. They argue the president is breaking the law. Is he? We're going to discuss that next.

And just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, investors will be watching a new round of trade talks between the U.S. and China. They start again today.

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