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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Does New Info Complicate Republican Criticism of FBI?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: More breaking news involving Peter Strzok.

Peter Strzok is the FBI official who was demoted over after those anti-Trump text messages, the ones whom Republicans accuse with reason of being politically biased against Trump and in favor of Hillary Clinton.

Now CNN is learning that Strzok actually had a major role in reopening that Clinton e-mail investigation just 10 days before the 2016 election. That's a decision you might recall that Hillary Clinton blames for her loss in the election.

We have CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill and Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department breaking the story for us.

Manu, let me start with you. Tell us what you found.


E-mails that we have obtained, Jake, actually show that Peter Strzok actually played a key role in that major decision just days before the 2016 election to send to that letter to Congress reopening the Clinton e-mail investigation, upending the Clinton campaign at a such a critical moment of the campaign season.


These October 27, 2016, e-mails that we have obtained show that Peter Strzok actually wrote the first draft of that letter, co-wrote it with another colleague, and they sent to it other FBI officials, who added some of their suggested changes. And that formed the basis of the letter that Comey sent the next day to Congress announcing the reopening of that investigation.

We are also told separately by a source familiar with the matter that Strzok was supportive of reopening this investigation after it was found that some of these e-mails were on the laptop of that disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Jake, this is significant because Strzok has been accused by Republicans of being biased because of these text messages that Congress has obtained between him and that FBI lawyer Lisa Page saying that these two people were unfair to President, then candidate, Trump, given some of the sharp messages they exchanged about then candidate Trump.

But clearly he was involved in another key matter about the letter, and that letter, as you know, Hillary Clinton blamed for costing her the presidency, Jake.

TAPPER: But, Laura, you also have some information about private reservations that Strzok had about making the letter public?


I spoke to a source that is familiar with Strzok's thinking on it. And he -- they put it this way. On the one hand, Strzok certainly wants to pursue the Clinton investigation -- quote -- "aggressively," especially after the Weiner laptop was discovered.

Strzok felt like we have to see where this goes. But, at the same time, both he and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, you can see in the text messages that they have some apprehension about exactly how Comey is doing this so publicly and making public announcements just days before that presidential election.

In one of the text messages exchanges, you see that Page is saying things like, we're not sure we should go public with this, and Strzok actually agrees with her. And that's on the same day that Comey actually sent yet another public letter to Congress closing the Clinton investigation on November 6, just two days before the election -- Jake.

TAPPER: Manu, what might this mean for the investigations on Capitol Hill going forward?

RAJU: Well, it shows, Jake, that what we have learned publicly, the release of some of these text messages, are really just a slice of the larger picture that both members of Congress are investigating, as well as the inspector general at the Justice Department are also investigating, that these text messages just may not reflect the full picture of exactly what Peter Strzok in particular was doing.

We do know there are about two House panels that are investigating FBI actions during the 2016 campaign, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, also moving forward. The question is what else is out there and whether or not any of these other messages may not fit that narrative that Peter Strzok was simply out to get the Trump campaign, some things that may have made the Clinton campaign uncomfortable as well.

TAPPER: And, Laura, the Justice Department's inspector general's office revealed some 50,000 messages between Strzok and the FBI lawyer, Lisa Page.

Where does that stand now?

JARRETT: Yes, that's right.

The inspector general actually announced last week that he had uncovered some of the missing text messages from a pretty critical five-month span from December to May of '16, so right before the special counsel was appointed last year.

And the inspector general has found those messages, but we don't exactly know how many there are, what scope this is, and whether any bear on some of these issues. But the Justice Department will eventually review them and turn them over to Congress as well, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. A complicated story.

Laura Jarrett and Manu Raju, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

I'm back with my political panel.

David, let me start with you.

It doesn't erase the text messages that seemed to show a proclivity for Hillary Clinton to win the presidency, as opposed to President Trump, but it does complicates the picture a bit.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it totally complicates the picture. Right.

If the three of us, if your reporters here, nobody can figure out what's going on here. The House, Senate oversight responsibility here is vast. There's been a call for a special prosecutor on these e- mails, on this whole situation. That may end up being the case.

Let me just push back on one narrative. I was out on the campaign, as you might remember, in Pennsylvania during October. I can tell you the president was on his way to winning, regardless of whether or not this came out in October. The momentum was surging in our favor long before this happened.


TAPPER: It's Hillary Clinton's opinion.


I was involved in that campaign -- 538 -- I obviously wanted Hillary to win. You wanted Trump to win.

We're going to see it through our partisan lens. The nonpartisan propeller heads at 538, who are just number crunchers, have isolated this, because it is pretty easy to do. Right? They narrowed it down. And they say that the Comey letter 11 days before the election that apparently Mr -- special agent Strzok was involved in, swung Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania certainly, was on point -- each won by less than one -- and North Carolina and Arizona.


Hillary Clinton would have won comfortably but for James Comey and the FBI intervening.


BEGALA: That's a fact. That's not just my opinion.

URBAN: That's not a fact, Paul.

BEGALA: It is.

URBAN: No, feelings aren't facts, Paul.


TAPPER: We're not going to settle this now.


URBAN: Do you know who won that race? The president won that race.


TAPPER: Let's turn it back to Peter Strzok, the FBI agent, for one second.

Does it complicate, in your view, the idea that he is biased if he was in favor of reopening the case against Hillary Clinton, although, according to Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department, he was also concerned about making the letter public.

Does this give Democrats pushback or does it even matter?

BEGALA: Look, the crime of the century was stealing the presidency. And the FBI letter and the Comey...

TAPPER: By Comey, you're saying.

BEGALA: By Mr. Comey.

TAPPER: Yes, not by President Trump, OK.

BEGALA: Correct. By Mr. Comey, Director Comey.

That's what swung the election at the end. And the fact that now we find special agent Strzok was involved in that, boy, does it complicate things. Yes, apparently, there were private messages between himself and a woman he was involved in who was a lawyer at the Justice Department criticizing Mr. Trump, but also criticizing Hillary Clinton.

The action -- those are their private views. Their public actions as public officials involved the FBI in a presidential election 11 days -- it is completely unprecedented. It's unethical. It's against Justice Department guidelines. And it swung the election. It makes Jim Comey vaguely nauseous. It makes me sick.

URBAN: So, Paul, what swung the election was Hillary Clinton's war on coal. She was completely out of touch with the working class, the Democrats in Pennsylvania. The Obama guns, God and religion comment lingered long, deplorables.


BEGALA: So a comment eight years before the election was more important than a letter 11 days out with the FBI director falsely accusing the leading candidate?


BEGALA: By the way, he was investigating the Trump operation too. He never leaked that.


URBAN: I spent tons of time on the ground in Pennsylvania. You go there, take a drive around Altoona, Johnstown, Uniontown. Ask them if they remember guns, God and religion. Doesn't matter how long ago.


URBAN: That resonates to this day.


TAPPER: You wouldn't disagree with the idea that Comey didn't help Hillary Clinton's campaign in the last 10 days? You don't think it's irrelevant? You think Trump was going to win no matter what.

URBAN: I think he was going to win no that what.


URBAN: And let me explain to you why.

Everybody had it wrong. You had it wrong. You had it wrong. Everybody had it wrong.

TAPPER: I said two days before the election it's very competitive.


URBAN: You know who had it right? The former chairman of the DNC, your friend and my friend, Ed Rendell. He was telling people, watch out. You better watch out in Pennsylvania. There's something happening here.

A lot of people saw it. A lot of people were looking at it. Just because one thing happened, Comey, doesn't mean there is a nexus.


BEGALA: Why is the FBI barred from doing this? Why do Justice Department guidelines say you can't mess around with an election right before?


TAPPER: Peter Strzok is somebody that the president criticizes. Here's a tweet from President Trump: "Where are the 50,000 important

text messages between FBI lovers, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok? Blaming Samsung."

This is before the text messages were recovered by the inspector general.

Will the White House now have to respond to the fact that...


TAPPER: No, you don't think so.

URBAN: Listen, again, this just fits into the narrative there might be a need for further investigation into this whole matter.

TAPPER: By a new special counsel.


URBAN: Listen, if Paul is saying that Jim Comey threw the election...

BEGALA: Absolutely.

URBAN: Are you calling for a special counsel?


BEGALA: No. It's not a crime. It is slimy. It is sleazy. It is unethical, but it is not a crime.


URBAN: There's a complete investigation into Russian collusion, but not Jim Comey collusion?

BEGALA: Because that's a crime.

URBAN: Is what you're saying?


TAPPER: I don't think he is saying it was collusion.


BEGALA: What Director Comey did was not a crime. It was unconscionable, but it was not a crime.

URBAN: Listen, and what the Russians did...


URBAN: No, what the Russians did was completely abhorrent. But they didn't collude with the campaign.

BEGALA: This is what Mr. Mueller will tell us. We will find out.


URBAN: At the end of the day, you're going to see.

I cannot wait for the Mueller -- because it's going to be a set of facts. I believe Director Mueller is an institutionalist. And he's going to provide a timeline with what happened, who did what. And he's just going to present it to the Congress.

TAPPER: While we're on this subject, because I do want to talk about the Nunes memo, because President Trump has made it very clear that he wants this memo released, even though the FBI director, his own appointed FBI director, Christopher Wray, said today he didn't want it released.

Listen to Chief of Staff John Kelly, retired Marine attorney general, asked about the memo this morning, which Kelly has seen..


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it.

QUESTION: Do you think that -- what changes the next day after -- do you think things change the next day after, you think?

KELLY: Again, I'll let -- I'll let all the experts decide that when it's released. This President, again, it's so unique Brian that he wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds.


PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So that means he is releasing his tax returns. Good news he wants everything out. The tax returns is central to this case, right? Was the President compromised financially by Russians? He won't release his tax returns. I'm being silly but that's the logical conclusion of General Kelly's comments. I'll say this. This memo better be big. This better be Mt. Everest. This better be cataclysmic because they -- the wind up here is amazing. There better be a hell of a pitch.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I will agree my steamed colleague here on that, and that the juice better be worth the squeeze on this one, right? There's a big build-up. And whatever is coming out of it, I'm not sure, this is like six news cycles now on the memo and it will be probably about a 15-minute segment on what's in -- it's in the memo.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Well, I'm excited to find out what's in the memo. I also want to see the Democratic response to the memo. And frankly, I would love if the underlying intelligence as much as possible without compromising sources and methods, and the FISA warrant which President Trump could declassify right now if he wanted to, we could see that and we could if it's true that everything about this was just based on the Steele Dossier. You heard General Clapper, retired of the Air Force and also former Director of National Intelligence saying he thought that that was supplemental but that wasn't the reason for a FISA.

URBAN: Well, you know, I'll just point to this. There's so much going on, so many moving parts on this investigation. I can understand the White House, the President, and the Chief of Staff want for clarity, want for the public to be fully informed of what's going on. I think that that's something that they need to --

TAPPER: But is this memo fully --

URBAN: I'm not certain. I have not seen it. I've talked -- listen, I've talked to members of the House who have been a part of this and these folks aren't you know, wild-eyed crazies. And they said, look, there's some -- there's some smoke and there's fire in this case.

BEGALA: Well, it's so interesting that the President seems to be at war with the FBI and in love with Russia. Maybe it is because the FBI is investigating whether he was in bed we Russia. I mean, it's really an amazing thing. Quite anomalous don't you think? Because President hits back ten times harder, then he say, here's the Russian attack us, an act of war but he's a total --

URBAN: Listen, I know -- I know there's about 100 Russian oligarchs who are sweating out right now --

BEGALA: From the Forbes Magazine.

URBAN: No they're sweating out right because of what was released.

TAPPER: David and Paul, thank you so much. We've got some more breaking news. An Amtrak train taking Republican lawmakers to a retreat slammed into a truck tragically killing the driver. The story of the sudden impact, the scramble to action, all that coming up next, stay with us.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "NATIONAL LEAD." Members of Congress witness to a tragedy on the tracks. An Amtrak train carrying Republican lawmakers and their families to a political retreat in West Virginia collided with a garbage truck in Virginia earlier today. The driver of the truck was killed and at least six people have been hospitalized. The National Transportation Safety Board is on the scene. CNN's Phil Mattingly is in Charlottesville, Virginia where the train was towed. Phil, do we know exactly how this happened yet?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the investigation is ongoing. But according to people that were both on the scene and involved with the crash, here's what we know at this point. The garbage truck was basically coming up on a parallel road to the train. It tried to take a left, ended getting stuck on the tracks. Whether they mistimed the turn or whether something stalled out, that is still being looked into right now. But one thing that is clear. There was not nearly enough time for the train conductor to react. Just listen to what Senator Jeff Flake had to say.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We were moving at a pretty rapid pace and it didn't seem that there was any time for the train to slow down at all. I didn't feel any slowing before the impact.


MATTINGLY: Jake, no braking before the impact. That was the first thing lawmakers felt. Several lawmakers recounting how they flew over seats. They also had family members on the train. At this point, nobody from the train was hurt significantly. There were cuts, bruises, some -- one lawmaker in a concussion protocol. The main concern, those individuals on the garbage truck. As you noted, one individual dead, another seriously injured. One thing lawmakers did right after the crash, several of them doctors, sprinted off the train to try to administer aid including Brad Wenstrup, a Congressman from Ohio who Jake, as I think you recall is an Iraq combat veteran and surgeon who helped save the life of Steve Scalise during the congressional baseball practice shooting just last year, Jake.

TAPPER: And Phil, the Republicans are going to continue on with the retreat?

MATTINGLY: That's right. The train was towed here to Charlottesville. The lawmakers boarded buses to head to the Greenbrier. You can see them just a short while ago filing out of those buses when they arrive. One of the big reasons, there were discussions about whether or not to postpone but tonight Vice President Mike Pence will be there to give a speech. Tomorrow the President arrives as well. This is an issues conference, a big policy debate, and discussion that they want to have, obviously big speakers. They decided to keep it going despite the crash, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly, thanks so much. It's a sad story. Another Republican committee chairman just announced he will not be seeking re-election. Is the Republican Party fearing a blue wave in 2018? Stay with us.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: Another major departure is filling more uncertainty for Republicans in 2018 and causing many to question whether Republicans are fearing a blue wave in the midterm elections this November. Today the House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina announced that he will not run for re- election. His departure makes nine current Republican Committee Leaders planning to leave Congress. You can make that ten if you count Jason Chaffetz who left last year leaving only the 12 Republican chairs highlighted here in place for now. Also, note that Gowdy and Chaffetz both chaired the House Government and Reform and Oversight Committee. Gowdy, of course, made his name leading the investigation into the attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya in 2012. Gowdy is former Federal Prosecutor and says he is returning to work in the justice system. In a statement, he wrote, "Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress and I enjoy our justice system more than our political system." Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD today. I turn you over now to Brianna Keilar who's in for Wolf Blitzer but also in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.