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McCabe Speaks Out; Mueller Report Coming Soon?; Jussie Smollett Under Fire. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:05]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

President Trump has called Robert Mueller's Russia investigation everything, from witch-hunt, to a Democrat-led hoax, to a disgrace. But next week, he may be able to give it a new name, over.

CNN has learned that the new attorney general here, Bill Barr, may get Mueller's report as early as next week, nearly two years after the special counsel was appointed, an appointment sparked by move a President Trump thought would make any and all questions about this whole Russia thing go away, that being his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Instead, that only made things worse, much worse. As of today, seven former members of Trump's inner circle, from his business empire to his campaign to his White House, have pleaded guilty in this probe.

Michael Cohen, his former fixer, now due to report to prison in May. Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, set to be sentenced next month. And Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, Mueller is recommending that he get up to 24-and-a-half years in prison for financial crimes.

So, in all, 37 people and entities, including dozens from Russia, have been charged.

For his part, the president said this moment ago about the report's potential release.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. President, should the Mueller report be released when you are abroad next week?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will be totally up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department, so that will be totally up to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is all over this in Washington.

Evan, tell me what you know.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, as you said, the end is near or the end of this phase, that is.

We expect that the attorney general, Bill Barr, is going to announce in the next week or so that the Mueller investigation is over, and that he has a report, a confidential report, from the Mueller team. And then, of course, he is going to prepare his own report that he's going to send over to Congress.

What that report looks like, the contours of it, what's going to be included in it, a lot of that, I think, is still up in the air, simply because we don't know exactly how Mueller is going to do this. I mean, there is some thinking inside the Justice Department that perhaps the attorney general should just send over one page and say, look, these are the indictments we did, and that's the end of the story, a one-page summary, as you will.

We don't expect that that's exactly how Bill Barr will do this. And that probably won't fly with members of Congress. So he's going to go over this report, and he's going to prepare something that he hinted at during his recent hearing on Capitol Hill, where he said that he knows that there's a responsibility to tell the public something of this.

He's going to do that within the contours of the Justice Department's regulations, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So I'm taking all this in. And I'm thinking, let's just, hypothetically, Monday, Monday, Mr. Barr gets this Mueller report.

PEREZ: Right.

BALDWIN: What are his next two moves?

PEREZ: Well, yes.

So the first thing we're going to hear -- at least this is according to the plan that we -- that has been laid out so far -- is that the investigation is over, and he's reviewing the report. And then the next thing, soon thereafter, is he's going to prepare this report for Congress.

Now, one of the things that people in the Justice Department are very mindful of, and I think you heard president just now from I think a question from Kaitlan Collins over at the White House, he is about to take this very important trip to Vietnam to meet with the North Korean leader.

And I think the Justice Department officials, I think, are very mindful of not stepping on the president, making sure that they steer clear of the White House's diplomatic efforts. So I think Monday is a pretty good day to keep your eye on the television.

BALDWIN: That was a hypothetical, by the way. I know nothing. I'm just saying.

PEREZ: Right. Exactly. Right.

Or it could wait until after he comes back.

BALDWIN: Sure.

PEREZ: Again, some of this could slide back and forth.

And, look, again, as you said, the contours of this, a lot of how this will go depends on how much Mueller sends over to the attorney general, what that report looks like, the confidential report looks like.

And, Brooke, again, I think a lot of people are -- I'm certainly seeing on Twitter and elsewhere there's a big reaction from the resistance, as you were, the people, the critics of the president. A lot of them are not happy at the idea that this is over already.

But, look, there's a lot that is still going on. Mueller has already handed over a lot of pieces of this investigation to other U.S. attorney's offices, that they're still going to be doing their work.

If you talk to people close to the president, his lawyers, they expect that he and his company are going to be under investigation by the Southern District of New York through the end of his presidency. And then there's also the counterintelligence investigation, which could be going on certainly for years and years to come.

So, again, the end of Mueller does not mean the end of this drama.

BALDWIN: Got you. Got you loud and clear. Evan Perez, thank you.

[15:05:03]

PEREZ: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Let's continue this conversation.

I have got Jim Sciutto standing by, CNN's chief national security correspondent and CNN anchor. Laura Jarrett is CNN's justice reporter. And Michael Zeldin is a former special prosecutor who also served as a special assistant to Robert Mueller at the DOJ.

So, great to have all you on.

And, Laura, I want to begin with you.

I remember sitting with you in Washington the day that Bill Barr was testifying during his big confirmation hearing, and I want to -- if people have forgotten, let's revisit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: What happens next under the protocol rules and regulations at Justice? WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, under the current rules, that report is supposed to be confidential and treated as the prosecution and declination documents in an ordinary criminal -- any other criminal case.

And then the attorney general, as I understand the rules, would report to Congress about the conclusion of the investigation. And I believe there may be discretion there about what the attorney general can put in that report.

KENNEDY: So you would make a report to Congress?

BARR: Yes.

KENNEDY: Based on the report you have received?

BARR: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right, so here is the law regarding special counsel investigations, that Barr only has to tell Congress the investigation is complete and whether Mueller was blocked from acting on any efforts in his investigation.

And, as you just heard, Mr. Barr says he's more inclined to issue his own report on the Mueller probe, not the actual Mueller report itself.

So, Laura, obviously, so many people in this country, they want to see it, they want to get their hands on it. What's this whole thing been about for the last two years? How much of the Mueller report do you think the public will see?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: At least initially, probably not much, if anything, Brooke.

I think the key word there for Barr is discretion. It's totally up to him. He is more than aware of how the public is champing at the bit for this report, and that Congress even more so will be up in arms when he tries to withhold anything.

But at the same time, the Justice Department doesn't put everything out there in the typical investigation, understanding this isn't a typical investigation. But Barr, above anyone, is trying to get back to the old days, trying to avoid the model of former FBI Director James Comey, isn't going to want to put out information people who have been uncharged.

And the way the Mueller report works is that he has to lay out not just his prosecution decisions, but his decisions not to prosecute. And I think that's where the rubber really meets the road for him.

BALDWIN: And, Jim, and I hear you. I see you nodding.

But to Laura's point that he obviously doesn't want this to be a Comey redux. JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Right.

And that's -- I was just going to say James Comey. Remember that press conference in 2016?

BALDWIN: Of course.

SCIUTTO: James Comey said, listen, I'm not charging her.

BALDWIN: But...

SCIUTTO: By normal, you know, protocol, it would have ended there. He, in effect, said, I'm not charging here, but look at all these behaviors here that were reckless and so on, but doesn't meet the standard to charge.

Now, Robert Mueller is not James Comey. By the rules of this, if it's as simple as, listen, we looked into a whole bunch of stuff, we don't have the goods to charge, and that's it, the precedent to that, where, well, we did dig down here, we found this evidence that indicated it, but it didn't quite rise to the level, you shouldn't expect a Comey- like recitation of those investigative threads that didn't go anywhere, right, or at least in legal terms.

Now, that said, Congress is a leaky boat. If there is a report to Congress that gives more details than in the one-page summary conclusion, you might expect that some of those details, it's possible that they come out.

But on the essential question -- and, again, just another point I would make. Evan made the point there are other investigative threads that are still open. They have been farmed out to the Southern District of New York, Michael Cohen's investigation. The D.C. attorney's office is looking into Roger Stone, for instance.

I mean, these things are not going to end next week. But on that crucial question, did the Trump campaign enter into some sort of conspiracy with Russian nationals to influence the election, that's the key question that Robert Mueller will be expected to report on.

And that's a question were you when you and I may see the final answer, but we won't see all of the stuff that went into giving that final answer. That might be ultimately frustrating.

BALDWIN: But what about -- OK, so Michael, just last month, Mueller's grand jury was granted this extension of up to six months. And at the time, conventional wisdom was that this could be a sign the investigation was not close to being over.

So does this report coming out mean no more indictments?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we don't know that, because in Mueller's team, there are embedded prosecutors from other U.S. attorney's office, particularly the District of Columbia U.S. attorney's office.

[15:10:02]

So, you could have Mueller's core people standing down and passing the baton to the local U.S. attorney's office, Eastern District of Virginia, D.C., U.S. attorney's office up in New York for them to carry forth, that he's done, if you will, his investigative groundwork. He's going to report on his findings.

But to the extent there's work to be carried on, it will now be carried on in the ordinary course by U.S. attorney's offices. And to the nature of what it is that he's going to report, Brooke, I think there are two models that we can look at.

One is what Leon Jaworski filed after Watergate, which was about 55- page report, which was just a very clinical analysis of the evidence without any real conclusions drawn.

And then in juxtaposition of that, Ken Starr's report, which was 440 pages-plus, and it gave conclusory, Comey-like narratives. So Mueller has to figure out, who is he? Is he Jaworski or is he Starr?

He's under a different statute, but that will be informative of us.

BALDWIN: Wow. So that's 55 pages or 450 pages.

Do we -- Michael, just staying with you, depending on what Bill Barr wants to do, again, hypothetical, he gets this Monday, and there is this real thirst by we the people of the United States to understand what this whole thing has been about, how quickly do you think he will be able to turn something around for the public?

ZELDIN: It depends on how much classified information is in that report.

If he writes a report that's the counterintelligence component of which bears on a lot of methods and sources and data that is acquired from intercepts and the like, it's going to take a long time to redact that report to make it publicly available.

It could be that Barr decides that he's going to send the report, because he has an obligation to send to House Judiciary, Senate Judiciary, House Intelligence, Senate Intelligence. He's going to send the whole report to intelligence unredacted, but send it to other committees redacted.

So he's got some choices to make depending on what the contents of the report contains.

BALDWIN: Wow.

OK, meantime, this was such a great question that Kaitlan Collins asked of the president at the White House last hour is with regard to Bill Barr's releasing of this. And, again, it may take so long that this may be null and void, but the notion that the president is going to Vietnam next week for the second summit with Kim Jong-un.

And I don't know. Laura and Jim, to you guys on the timing of all of this, and to Evan's point that obviously the DOJ doesn't want to step on the White House and this trip, but how may this play out?

Laura, first to you.

JARRETT: I think that Evan is spot on there, that especially Bill Barr, he's just coming into the job. He hasn't been tweeted about yet.

I think the last thing he wants to do is to try to step on the president's diplomatic efforts in North Korea. And we have seen before Justice officials giving the White House sort of a heads-up, letting them at least be aware of what's coming.

We saw this several months ago, before Rod Rosenstein indicted a whole slew of Russians in connection with the conspiracy against the United States. The president was supposed to have a summit was Putin, so Rod Rosenstein wanted to give him a heads-up, we're about to indict a whole bunch of Russians.

So I think the Justice Department has to be careful there with how much, especially given that this report could potentially bear so much on the president's own behavior and actions, so they have to be careful about exactly what they're disclosing and to whom and how they want to go about doing that.

But I certainly think that they want to be mindful of next week's activity.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Jim Sciutto, close us out.

SCIUTTO: Next week is the North Korea summit. March 2 is the deadline for the imposition of new tariffs on China, something of a deadline for U.S.-China trade talks, which are, of course, essential to this president's priorities.

Now, there's been talk of moving that deadline. But still it's not like next week's a particularly good week in terms of international diplomatic efforts as well. So how that factors into the decision, hard to say.

BALDWIN: When is there ever a good week for this kind of thing?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

BALDWIN: All right, to all three of you, thank you so much. Great conversation.

Just as the special counsel's Russia investigation nears completion, a former FBI official going on TV alleging the president of the United States could be working for Russia right now.

And investigators are now asking actor Jussie Smollett to hand over financial records, just as we are getting our first look at a threatening letter the actor says he received before this alleged attack. Plus, married to ISIS -- women who left their birth country to marry a terrorist are now begging to return home. Should they be treated as terrorists or wayward citizens asking for forgiveness? What Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just decided.

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[15:19:15]

BALDWIN: It seems each day Andrew McCabe speaks of his new book, another blockbuster headline comes out.

On top of confirming the FBI was looking into whether or not the president of the United States was a Russian foreign agent, McCabe is now saying that that possibility could still apply today.

And, what's more, he goes after the president for going after the FBI. And yet McCabe stopped short of getting into the president's family.

Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: Ultimately, when the director is fired, the president makes the comment about thinking about Russia when he fired the director, we were in a position to say, this is so clearly an articulable factual basis upon which to believe that a federal crime may have been committed and that a threat to national security exists, we are obligated to open up a case under these circumstances.

[15:20:04]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: At the time that in the book that Rosenstein offered to wear a wire to a meeting with the president -- and I know you said you consulted with the attorneys at the FBI about that -- at the moment, did you think that was a good idea?

MCCABE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

COOPER: Why?

MCCABE: You know, I felt like it was an incredibly invasive and potentially precedent-setting thing to do.

When the president and his supporters continually perpetuate this false narrative of corruption within the FBI, that makes their job harder every day.

COOPER: Do you know, was the president's family being looked into either before the appointment of Mueller or after?

MCCABE: That's something I don't feel comfortable talking about as it goes to kind of the -- could go to an ongoing investigative matter.

COOPER: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset? MCCABE: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our

investigation. And I'm really anxious to see where Director Mueller concludes that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: And you don't need to be any FBI to witness the exceptional behavior from the president when it comes to all things Russia.

There's the one-on-one meetings he's had with President Putin where only interpreters have been present, including their first face-to- face in Helsinki. There was Trump's deference to Putin, against U.S. intelligence experts, when it comes to huge foreign issues like the nuclear threat from North Korea's Kim Jong-un, and Russia's meddling in U.S. elections.

There is his meeting with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister a mere one day after he fired FBI Director James Comey. And there's the White House lifting some Russian sanctions that had ties to Putin allies and oligarchs.

Overall, there has been this inability for the president to go after Putin, to criticize him at all, like we know he is perfectly capable of doing, as we see him criticizing his opponents. And his silence on this latest Russian incident may speak volumes.

President Putin is talking about a -- quote, unquote -- "tit for tat" should the U.S. ever point missiles toward Europe. And while the State Department has responded, there has been no tweet, no comment, nada from the president, like the fire and fury comeback he once gave North Korea.

So let me turn now to see CNN national security analyst Steve Hall, retired as CIA chief of Russia operations.

So, Steve, good to have you back.

And when you first hear Andy McCabe say this, do you suspect that he knows something that we don't, or is he just going off of what is clearly already out there in the public?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it's a fair assessment to say that he certainly knows things that we don't know and he's talking about some of those things and not talking about others.

But the one that caught my attention was when he says it's possible that the president was an asset.

BALDWIN: Yes.

HALL: And I don't think it's -- I think it's important for viewers not to get too caught up in the semantics of this, whether he is an agent or an asset.

There's a lot of different technical terms that are used for these types of things. But you do have to ask, whose best interests is the president working towards, is he serving? Is it Russia or is it the United States?

And I think that's really what the heart -- that's at the heart of what this initial counterintelligence investigation that McCabe was involved in, which has now, of course, grown into the Mueller investigation. So, that's the key there.

BALDWIN: Are you surprised that he is going there on some of these ongoing investigations, but not on others publicly?

HALL: It's hard to say.

I mean, so much of this, you find yourself in a situation -- I sort of understand where McCabe's coming from. He clearly feels very strongly about a number of different things. He feel strongly about the counterintelligence issues that started all of this, that litany of things that you were listing in the lead-up here of all those -- all that connectivity between Trump and the Trump family, the campaign, back to Russia.

So that's got to concern him. There's some very sensitive classified stuff, though, that he clearly can't talk about. And then how do you balance all that out? So it -- of course, he's also trying to sell a book. So there's all sorts of different things kind of tugging at him.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Right.

Putin now, you have President Putin issuing the this Cold War-type threat to the United States, vowing to target U.S. decision-making centers if President Trump deploys missiles to Europe. What do you make of this?

HALL: Well, there's a couple lessons, I think, to be drawn from this. The first sort of 30,000-foot one is that, in perspective, this is exactly what Vladimir Putin wants to be doing. This is what it's all about for him, being a big power on the big stage, being at the big boys table, talking about nuclear weapons and talking -- and engaging the strongest country in the world, the United States in that.

This all is very good for Putin personally, his own ego, his own sense of greatness. It's good for him at home, because he can tell the Russian people, look, we're a great country again.

The actual meat of it, the technical part, the nuclear negotiations, those are very, very technical matters that will have to be negotiated between people who really do that for a living.

[15:25:01]

I'm actually a little less concerned about that than I am about Putin's intentions and just getting out there in the world and being a stronger power, which is really what he's pushing for, at the expense of the Western alliance, the United States and NATO.

BALDWIN: Sitting at the big boys table.

Steve Hall on all things Putin and Russia there, thank you very much. Good to have you back on.

I want to move on. He's usually a close ally of the president, but Republican Senator Lindsey Graham reportedly said one of his ideas his -- quote -- "the dumbest F'ing thing I have ever heard."

Plus, police want actor Jussie Smollett a second time. They want to talk to him after they say new evidence changed the trajectory of the investigation, but,. so far, no follow-up. Officials are now asking for the actor's financial records. We are live in Chicago next.

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