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Comey Admits "Real Sloppiness" in FISA Warrants of Carter Page; Former FBI & CIA Director William Webster Pens Op-Ed Slamming Trump/Barr for Attacks on FBI; Presidential Candidate Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) Discusses Effect of Senate Trial on Presidential Candidates, William Webster's Op-Ed, Upcoming Senate Trial; USMCA Trade Deal Hits Snag with Mexico. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 11:30   ET

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


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[11:30:12]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Overconfident, downright sloppy. Former FBI Director James Comey defending himself and the FBI but also now admitting mistakes were made following the Justice Department inspector general report.

That report looking into the origins of the Russia investigation and it states that it did not find, quote, "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced officials' decisions to open the investigation."

But it also, the report, laid out major errors in the process as well, especially in obtaining the FISA warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The report determining the agency omitted critical evidence that may have cleared Page before surveillance began in the fall of 2016.

Listen to James Comey speaking with Chris Wallace on FOX News yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Significant errors in the FISA process, and you say that it was handled in a thoughtful and appropriate way.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: He's right, I was wrong. I was overconfident in the procedures that the FBI and Justice had built over 20 years. I thought they were robust enough. It's incredibly hard to get a FISA. I was overconfident in those.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, former federal prosecutors, Harry Litman and Shan Wu.

It's good to see you guys. Thanks for being here.

Shan, what's your reaction to see Comey speaking out yesterday?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, confidence is not one of Director Comey's weaknesses so it's a little redundant to say he was overconfident.

But I would say he's being very forthright. This is not something you can dispute. I think it's critical to note that the critical takeaway is no political motivation but these errors were significant.

I think it's important for our viewers to understand that there's a constant tension between law enforcement and prosecutors and that's no different between the Department of Justice and the FBI.

On an everyday basis, there are small errors made in warrants. But when it comes to a FISA warrant, there's no such thing as a small error because it's such an intrusive error to make.

BOLDUAN: I want to focus in on the FISA warrant process in a second.

Harry, I would say this all puts an even brighter spotlight on the FBI director now, Christopher Wray. What changes -- I mean, what changes he does or doesn't make and what it looks like going forward. Would you agree?

HARRY LITMAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, but there's a real problem here. He's acting impeccably. He's owned up to it and he's made changes. That's happened before.

The real risk here is that the headline that you identified, Kate, will get obscured now. The bigger point of there being adequate predication and no bias will now be obscured and Trump has this huge talking point that he's already gallop be away with to say, oh look, they screwed up, I was right, it was wrong from the beginning, which is not the case. But that's the real worry.

Wray has a spotlight on him and Trump, of course, seems to have possibly his scalp in his sights. But Wray is acting appropriately and everyone at the FBI is acknowledging the professional mistakes. Very, very different though from the charges that they've been cleared of.

BOLDUAN: This does though spark, as you noted, Shan, a conversation about once again the secretive FISA courts. They have long been shrouded in secrecy. Even James Comey said yesterday that he was overconfident in the FISA process, as if he didn't know really what was going on there.

What really should be the concern right now on this?

WU: I think the concern should be more oversight by the Justice Department. So FBI is actually within the Justice Department but operates with a lot of autonomy and they're the law enforcement wing of it.

The OIG report makes recommendations that when it comes to certain types of sensitive investigations like this one involving a campaign, that there should be more senior Justice Department official oversight like the deputy attorney general.

And as Harry knows, when it comes to other kinds of sensitive issues, such as asking for a warrant on a member of the media, there's a lot of oversight by DOJ directly. And that's one of the important recommendations that the OIG makes for going forward, trying to prevent this type of action.

BOLDUAN: Look, people can have two thoughts in their minds at once, and we think folks can. And that is that this is an important conversation to be having, Harry, about the FISA process, about the FISA courts. There's long, ever since they were created, been a debate about reform, about the level of secrecy, the lack of transparency from the public, from the media, even from Congress.

LITMAN: Totally. And look, in addition to what Shan said, the real problem here is it has to be, but it is ex parte, meaning the subject of the warrant doesn't get to participate. So it makes it paramount that the FBI does everything by the book.

[11:35:09]

And the real risk is the court be somewhat misinformed or incompletely informed. And 99 percent of these things are approved. We've always said that's because they do it so right. But maybe that's not so. Maybe sometimes the court is snookered. That's a big worry.

But of course, it's a worry for Carter Page and not for Donald Trump. I just want to underscore that.

BOLDUAN: A point well taken.

But, Shan, this all also comes as there's -- CNN is reporting that mortality at the FBI is suffering, the president is relentless in his criticism. Honestly, just look over the weekend.

In a new op-ed today from former FBI and former CIA director, Bill Webster, he slammed the president and the current attorney general for their attacks on the agency.

Writing this, in part, in this opinion piece, "Calling FBI professionals scum as the president did is a slur against people who risk their lives to keep us safe. Mr. Barr's charges of bias within the FBI made without providing any evidence in direct dispute of the findings of the nonpartisan inspector general risk inflicting enduring damage on this critically important institution."

Where do they go from here?

WU: I think they go to where they've always gone, which is just to keep doing their job. There's going to be a time, hopefully, soon when Barr is gone and his actions are just completely unsupportable.

He's basically objecting to the idea that his senior staff have more oversight over the FISA warrant. It's like, what is he talking about? He's obviously just trying to score political points for the president. And the FBI's an institution that's had its ups and downs. It has had its flaws. But it continues to do its job every day. And that's why they're going, that's why they're going to persevere, and that's why Barr is not going to persevere.

BOLDUAN: Harry, good to see you.

Shan, good to see you, man. Thank you.

LITMAN: Thanks for having me.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, after this historic week in the House, one that is expected to vote to impeach President Trump, the Senate takes center stage. And could that spell trouble for some Democrats running for president?

We'll be right back.

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[11:41:59]

BOLDUAN: While there's a lot that we do not know yet about the Senate impeachment trial and how it's going to play out, one thing that we do know is that, come the new year, the Senate trial will begin.

And that means five Democrats currently running for president will be heading off the campaign trial and back to Washington just weeks before the first contents, the five Democrats that are Senators running for the White House.

One of those Democrats is joining us right now, Senator Michael Bennet, of Colorado.

Good to see you, Senator.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO): Thanks, Kate. Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Thank you for being here.

One month before the Iowa caucuses, one month before New Hampshire, a critical state for you, you will likely be in Washington and you could be there for weeks. We don't know how this is going to play out. What does that mean for you and your campaign?

BENNET: We, obviously, all of us, have a constitutional obligation we have to fulfill and there's just no way around that. So what we're trying to do is 50 town halls in New Hampshire before they start to vote on primary day. And one way or another, we're going to find a way to get that done.

Obviously, this makes it more challenging but there's a lot at stake in both the election and in this impeachment trial. So we're going to have to figure out how to walk and chew gum at the same time. BOLDUAN: It might be hard when you're not going to be able to walk at

all. You literally might be in Washington for weeks.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: It could be the entire month of January. We don't know.

Do you think you're going to be able to pull off and keep your commitment to voters in New Hampshire with those 50 town halls?

BENNET: Well, we --

BOLDUAN: At some point, you can't be in two places at once.

BENNET: You can't be in two places at once, which is why I'm going to spend as much time between now and then in New Hampshire.

But it is what it is. We have a responsibility, all of us, that we've got to fulfill. There's no one else to fulfill that responsibility.

My hope is that what will come out of this is a reacquaintance with all of us, as Americans, about why the rule of law is so important and the fact that nobody, including the president, is above the rule of law.

BOLDUAN: Senator Schumer, he's laying out today his opening bid, if you will, for how he would like to see the trial proceed in the Senate. This would include testimony from folks like Mick Mulvaney and John Bolton.

To get that from -- to get Republicans to go along with that, since they are in the majority, would you be willing to negotiate on witnesses that Republicans would like to call during the trial as well?

BENNET: I suppose it depends on who those witnesses are. But sure. We've got -- it's amazing, these are witnesses that the White House should have supplied as a matter of course because the Congress asked to hear them.

The president is hiding behind this invented executive privilege, and it's made it very hard for us to find out what really happened. He's obstructing and he's stonewalling. This will give us the opportunity here, important witnesses.

What's amazing to me is, if everything was as President Trump says it is, why hasn't he put these witnesses in front of the Congress? I think the answer is going to turn out that everything is not the way he says it is. He's trying to downplay this, telling his supporters there's nothing to see here.

[11:45:03]

But I think we're going to find out that it's a pretty serious thing when the president of the United States tries to extort a foreign leader and get them to interfere in our elections. (CROSSTALK)

BENNET: I don't think that's going to wear well.

BOLDUAN: You pose an important question. You also lay out how important you think it is to get the likes of Mulvaney and Bolton and others to testify.

If it is so important, what about Hunter Biden? Would you trade, I don't know -- it's strange to call it a trade but that's essentially what it is.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Would you be willing to go along with Hunter Biden being called to testify to get Mulvaney and Bolton in?

BENNET: I don't think Hunter Biden is going to be able to shed any light at all on the president's extortion scheme with respect to --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Maybe not but would you go along with getting him in the seat?

BENNET: No. I think that's going to do nothing to elucidate the truth here and that's what we're supposed to be doing.

I'm sure that the president will try and turn this into a show trial, try to turn it into a circus. His whole two years in Washington has been a circus.

Kate, we do have to get through this process and we have to do it in a way that reflects our commitment to the rule of law, as I said earlier.

But it's a reminder, why having a president who sows chaos every day, day in and day out, is not only wasting the time of the American people, it's creating a real issue for America's place in the world.

So we've got to make a change. We've got to do what's necessary on this impeachment hearing, and then I think we're going to have to move on to November and beat Donald Trump.

BOLDUAN: Let me ask you a question about the primary. There's a group of Democratic candidates who appealed to the chairman of the DNC this weekend to change the requirements that have been laid out to making it on the debate stage.

All the reporting that I've seen is that you are not on this letter. Correct me if you are.

But you have long been critical of the debate requirements. We've talked about this. Do you support kind of what they're asking, Tom Perez, putting the requirements as either donors or polling, not both? BENNET: I do support it. I think that the -- if you spend any time

in New Hampshire, Iowa or South Carolina, what you will discover is that people actually are less sure of who they're voting for today than they were six weeks ago or six months ago or even a year ago. And 76 percent of Democrats today in the most recent national polling say that they haven't made up their minds.

And I am at 1 percent in the polls but I have built my campaign to last until people in Iowa and New Hampshire start casting their votes.

For the DNC to be prematurely weeding out who should be on the debate stage, I think we're going to look back at this and say it was ridiculous and a self-inflicted wound by the DNC.

I used to think I was self-interested in saying this and I had my feelings hurt because I wasn't on the debate stage. I have come to believe it is compromising our chances to nominate somebody who can actually beat Donald Trump, which is why I've stayed in the race.

BOLDUAN: You point out where you are in the polls.

One final question. No matter if there's no choice in it at all, are you facing a reality where you're going to have to be off the campaign trail some because of impeachment. Is that going to hurt you?

BENNET: I hope not. But I have my first responsibility is to deal with the impeachment trial in the Senate.

Between now and then, though, we are beginning a fundraising campaign today to raise $700,000 to get our ads up in New Hampshire. I'm going to do those 50 town halls from neighborhood to neighborhood to neighborhood in New Hampshire.

You know, at some point, if people say we're voting and we're not interested in Michael Bennet, I'll have to take account of that.

In the meantime, I want to make sure I've done absolutely everything I can do to ensure that the Democratic Party is nominating somebody who can beat Donald Trump by winning in purple states.

If we can't do that, we're going to lose to this guy again, which would be shameful for us to do. There's just too much at stake.

BOLDUAN: Senator, thanks for coming in. Appreciate your time.

BENNET: Thanks, Kate. Appreciate it.

[11:49:12]

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

We'll be right back.

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BOLDUAN: It appeared that the new NAFTA trade deal, USMCA, was a done deal. In fact, the House is supposed to be voting on it days from now. But it just hit a snag not from Congress but from one of the partners in the deal.

CNN's Matt Rivers is in Mexico City with more on this.

Matt, what are you hearing?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, basically, Mexico is balking at provisions that were added a bill that was just introduced last Friday.

As a part of this negotiation, Democrats have long wanted to make sure that enforcement measures were added to new Mexican labor laws that were enacted here in Mexico as part of this deal. Democrats wanted inspectors from the U.S. on the ground here in Mexico making sure new labor laws were being followed.

Now Mexico's government is saying, hold on, we didn't agree with that, nobody told us that, and we would view any inspectors from the U.S. on the ground here in Mexico as a violation of our sovereignty.

Even though Mexican Senate passed this bill last week, on Thursday, they're now saying, hold on, we're not on board.

[11:55:09]

There are negotiations going on between Mexican negotiators and American negotiators today in Washington. We'll wait and see what comes out of this meeting.

But this deal just got more complicated.

BOLDUAN: Complicated. Done deal, not a done deal. It's still up in the air at this point.

Good to see you, Matt. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

So coming up, still ahead, as the House prepares to vote on impeachment, a top Democrat in the Senate lays out his opening bid for what he wants to see and not see in the Senate trial.

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