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Disputed GOP-Nunes Memo Released; Memo Points To FBI's Interest In Carter Page, Ex-Adviser To Trump's 2016 Campaign; GOP Memo Says FBI Abused Surveillance Power; Top Dems Warn Trump Using Memo To Fire Rosenstein Or Mueller Would Spark Constitutional Crisis. Aired 11-12mn ET
Aired February 02, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: This is a CNN special report, the Russia investigation, our breaking new tonight, and this is big. President Trump declassifies that explosive memo written by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, the memo released to the public over the objections of the president's own FBI director and justice officials. I'm Jim Sciutto.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And I'm Pamela Brown. The partisan memo from the committee chaired by former trump transition team member Devin Nunes alleges serious abuses by the FBI of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Democrats say it's misleading document that omits key facts and they accuse Republicans of using this memo to try to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
SCIUTTO: Big question tonight, will the president use the memo to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein? Always hanging over this.
BROWN: It is. And now the White House has come out and said that it is not under consideration, but it certainly raises the question, could that trigger, if Rod Rosenstein was fired, could that trigger the worst constitutional crisis since President Nixon's Saturday night massacre? A lot of parallel being drawn to that tonight.
I want to bring in our justice correspondent Evan Perez, crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, and justice reporter Kara Scannell. Where to start? Evan, let's go to you, because now we have this memo that there has been so much buildup to it, three and a half pages. Critics say it's misleading. What is the central allegation here? What stood out to you?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I think the central allegation here from Republicans who prepared this memo is that, you know, there were four FISA warrants, four surveillance warrants that were authorized on Carter Page.
And according to the memo, the FBI and the Justice Department failed to disclose that this dossier that was prepared by Christopher Steele, a former MI-6 agent, he failed to disclose that this dossier was funded initially by democratic donors, by Hillary Clinton's campaign. They say because of that, it undermines essentially -- a breakdown of legal process, it undermines the entire process, and undermines the investigation that we now are living with.
I think for a document obviously that's based on omissions, right, they're saying that the FBI and the Justice Department failed to disclose this stuff to the judge that approved these warrants, there is a lot that's missing here.
There is a lot of stuff that we know that the FBI had, additional intelligence on Carter Page. We know that the FBI had additional intelligence in order to get these warrants. So, there is a lot that is missing from this document itself.
SCIUTTO: On the central claim there, that in effect this warrant on Carter Page, who at the time actually was no longer with the Trump campaign but had been with the Trump campaign, that it was principally based on what was in this dossier, we've spoken to Democrats who were in the room and say that's not the case, that's not what Andrew McCabe said.
But let's filter out what the Democrats said. Let's listen to a Republican earlier tonight, Lindsey Graham. He released a statement. He said the following, quote, Mr. Steele's product was one piece of a larger puzzle, as it relates to Mr. Page and others. I expect the democratic memo in response will likely provide further context.
Shimon, that's been consistent with our reporting for some time. There was more intelligence that would normally go into something like this and that we know went into this.
BROWN: The memo kind of hints that.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, exactly. We've done this reporting for months now, if not almost a year. And this I think is the central issue for the FBI, that omissions, it's misleading, their characterization by the Republicans that this is all based on the dossier, that the FBI went ahead and got this warrant all based over the dossier.
We know from our reporter from talking to all of our sources that that is not true. There were intelligence officials that were sharing information. There were contacts of people in the Trump orbit who were in contact with Russians that raised a lot of alarms.
There is other human intelligence. The FBI was doing its own surveillance. Carter Page was on their radar for years. So all of that went into this FISA application. And so this is the central issue I think for the FBI.
BROWN: And George Papadopoulos is mentioned on the last page of the memo as being mentioned in the FISA application.
SCIUTTO: And even says on the last pages, says that the Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI [23:05:00] counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. So the Russia investigation began before the Carter Page warrant and based on, as you say, another -- I don't want to say suspect, but another person involved in this probe.
BROWN: Right. To you, Kara, I mean, you have to also look at how the process works because that is really important here. Every time that you go back to get a renewal every 90 days, you have to show that the surveillance has elicited important information to sort of prove the point or support the probable cause that this person is acting as an agent of a foreign power.
And in this case, there would have been four judges, right? Four independent judges sign off on this.
KARA SCANNELL, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. And not only four independent judges sign off on this, but the process, the internal process that it goes through at the Department of Justice, it went through that under Trump nominated and appointed officials.
So, it wasn't a partisan thing that it was just under the last administration. But people that Trump put in place were approving these memos and approving their applications to go to the court.
SCIUTTO: And to get a new -- to get an extension of a warrant, which essentially happens, they applied for the initial warrant three times and after that they came back to judges and said, listen, I'd like to keep this warrant going I think for 90 days, is that right? Evan and Shimon, you come back to that court. You have to show, do you not, you're gaining valuable intelligence?
PEREZ: Right. You do have to show that in the past 90 days, we were able to collect additional intelligence that warrants the continued surveillance of this person. Look, this is the most invasive type of surveillance that you can do on a person. It's something that is very serious. The judges take it very, very seriously.
And then we're talking about Carter Page. If you go back, the FBI had him on their radar back in 2013 and 2014 as part of an investigation in New York of a Russian spy ring. And the FBI talked to him then and told him that the Russians were trying to cultivate him.
And so all of this is what was contained in the 50 or so pages of this warrant application. And so I think one of the things that I think is missing from this is that additional context.
PROKUPECZ: And also the renewal. The renewal is a big part of this because as Kara was saying, there were two people that Trump -- there were two Trump appointees who were part of the renewal process.
That's Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Dana Boente, acting attorney general then the deputy attorney general and was running the national security division. These are two people who participated in the approval process during the renewal.
PEREZ: Dana Boente was the person who helped enforce the travel ban after Sally Yates refused to do so and got fired.
BROWN: And the president -- we're in the weeds on this because this is what we cover day to day. Let's be honest. This is political. This is a political strategy. We are told that the president was telling people around him that this would undermine the Russia probe. Is that true, Evan? Does it provide the political cover that perhaps they're looking for?
PEREZ: Look, I think the Republicans think that -- look, they don't care necessarily that it may give reason for the probe to end. I think what they do want is to bloody it up and to make sure that their base knows that when the president say is called to testify and he says no, I don't want to do that, that they can survive that politically. And so I think that may be it has helped in that cause.
SCIUTTO: Earlier tonight, the author of this memo, Devin Nunes, the house intelligence chairman, he was on Fox News. He was asked about the prospects of more memos coming out. Have a listen to his answer.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: This completes just the FISA abuse portion of our investigation. We are -- we are in the middle of what I call phase two of our investigation which involves other departments, specifically the State Department and some of the involvement that they had in this.
That investigation is ongoing. And we continue to work towards finding answers and asking the right questions to try to get to the bottom of what exactly the State Department was up to in terms of this Russia investigation.
SCIUTTO: Kara, is there evidence that the State Department was somehow wrongly involved in this?
SCANNELL: I mean, if there is, I think it's the first we have heard of it. I haven't -- we haven't -- all the focus has been on the FBI and the Intelligence Community. That we haven't really seen what the State Department was up to. I mean, this is also -- it seems more politicized because Nunes is really trying to focus on the oversight, focus on potential flaws or red herrings that they can throw out to flash up at the investigation.
SCIUTTO: And it's not the first time because we go back to the unmasking scandal which unfolded in a similar way going to the White House. Oh, my gosh, this has happened and it sort of petered out.
It was funny I asked this question last night, you know, what if just the FBI and the DOJ were doing their jobs, right, and discovered an American who might be talking to Russians and explore and then found more evidence, went back to the judge, you know,
[23:10:00] isn't that a plausible explanation for what they were up to here?
BROWN: It's pretty extraordinary. I mean, if you think about it, the fact that the FBI, the handpicked FBI directors come out basically said, look, this causes grave concerns to release this. The White House in conjunction with House Republicans basically ignored that and release this memo today anyway about one of the most sensitive --
BROWN: -- things in America -- you know --
PEREZ: I keep -- just one quick point on that -- on what you are saying there, Pam, I think you have to remember that -- look, there are some serious concerns with privacy. If there is such a thing and that's what this is about, they haven't really backed it up.
And so the question for members of Congress is, if you think they broke the law, then what law did they break? Who are you charging with that? Are you going to change the FISA law?
PEREZ: After all they just reauthorized a section of the FISA law. And they as far as we know made no changes that would have cured this. So, it really, really goes to the point that this is more of a political issue, not something that they really are serious about privacy and protection of Americans.
SCIUTTO: It's a great point. Because it's certainly a reasonable debate to ask about how far can you go in surveilling Americans even in a national security investigation. But if you're making a charge that it's happening illegally, you better present some evidence.
PROKUPECZ: But that's why this is never supposed to be so public, right. The FBI, this is their concern here. They value the work that they do on FISA and the courts, the FISA courts, and they treat it with extreme sensitivity, because the work that goes into this is so sensitive and so important in terms of the way they view it for our national security, that we can't -- they cannot afford to expose anything that goes on in that court.
There are people under surveillance in this country all the time. Sometimes you go to a regular court or criminal judge and you ask for this. But when it comes to the FISA stuff, it takes a lot to go there, especially on a U.S. citizen where you really need a lot of --
PEREZ: Who has not been charged.
PROKUPECZ: And in this case, Carter Page -- it's not clear he is ever going to be charged. You know, when we started doing this story, remember we kept getting this distinction, this is a counterintelligence investigation. And these are the kinds of things that the FBI does in counterintelligence.
SCIUTTO: That's a very good point. There are no charges on Carter Page at this point. In fairness to him, we have to emphasize that.
BROWN: Yes. Four people have been charged in the probe, not Carter Page. All right, thank you, guys, so much. Coming up, the battle raging in Washington tonight over the Nunes memo and what it could mean for the Russia investigation. We will get reaction from a top Republican and a top Democrat. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: And breaking news tonight, fallout from the release of the explosive Nunes memo which alleges that FBI and Justice Department officials abused their surveillance authority. President Trump approved the memo's release.
Democrats called it an attempt by Republicans and the White House to discredit the ongoing Russia investigation.
So let's talk more about this with Congressman Steve King, an Iowa Republican. He joins us on the phone right now.
SCIUTTO: Congressman King, thanks so much for taking the time tonight. This is Jim Sciutto. A central accusation in the Nunes memo is that this warrant that was issued on Carter Page was based principally on the dossier.
In fact though we are hearing tonight from Lindsey Graham, of course, your Republican colleague in the senate, he says the following in a statement. Mr. Steele's work product was one piece of a larger puzzle as it relates to Mr. Page and others. I expect the democratic memo in response will likely provide further context.
Which is it? Is -- was the dossier the central reason this warrant was issued? Or as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says, it was one piece of a larger puzzle?
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA (via telephone): Well, I'm reluctant to take Andrew McCabe's word for this. But in the -- excuse me, in the memo, in the Nunes memo, it notes in there that Deputy Director McCabe testified before the committee in December of 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISA court without the Steele dossier information. So --
SCIUTTO: To be clear --
KING (via telephone): -- that's the (INAUDIBLE). That's his word on that. And I don't know that Lindsey has read the democratic report at this point.
SCIUTTO: To be clear, I've spoken to Democrats, three Democrats who were in the room for Andrew McCabe's testimony, and they say that Nunes comment mischaracterizes what McCabe said and they like Senator Graham. These are three members of the House Intelligence Committee who are in the room for his testimony. They say that in fact he said that it was one piece of a larger picture.
KING (via telephone): Well, a piece of a larger picture, but the largest piece of a picture, that -- by the way, that testimony -- there would be a transcript of the testimony that will over time I think we will get to that. And there is so much of this that's going on here. I want the full public to see. We found out that the Nunes memo doesn't jeopardize any national security or any sources or methods. It's a good thing it's out there. Let's put sunlight on all of it. That the Democrats have a case. What I understand is their 18-page memo has got a lot of sources and methods and a lot of classified that need to be redacted before the public could see it.
It's not as carefully drafted as the one of the Nunes memo, but I think we should see all of that. That can be released from a non- classified standpoint and then members of Congress need to have access to all of the supporting documents and have a chance to read them through. And I -- from what I've seen, I have been sickened at what I've seen.
BROWN: OK. So Congressman King, you're making the case there that it's important for the public to be aware of this, for there to be transparency. It sounds like you're open to the Democrats memo to come public once it's scrubbed. What is your response to Democrats who are saying that the information in this memo is cherry picked?
KING (via telephone): Well, you know, that down to a pretty short list of what they can complain about. I mean -- and I actually heard even General Michael Hayden (ph) say last night that the memo is incomplete.
Well, you can allege that about anything. Memo, you could allege that about the (INAUDIBLE) left something out. Certainly they condensed it down into a document.
SCIUTTO: To be fair, congressman, they are saying that because it's cherry picked, it is misleading, and not just Democrats frankly, that's what the FBI director said as well.
KING (via telephone): The FBI director read the report on Sunday and McCabe was gone on Monday morning. I think he saw something in that report that he could not defend.
[23:20:00] BROWN: But he said there were key omissions, Congressman King. And I can look at it and see what the omissions are. It doesn't include the other information that was in the FISA application in order that went to the judge and then the renewal information as well. Remember this went to four different judges, Congressman King.
KING (via telephone): At this point. And I hope they are public. And that's where we have to go though, Pamela. We got to follow this trail all the way to the end. We got to see the FISA applications. We got to follow the sequence of it. We got to put it into a continuum chronology so we can understand who knew what and when.
But this is clearly politically motivated. There is no justification for this that I can see. There is no evidence that it has been brought forward that said that there was anything discovered about Carter Page in the first round of 90 days. But we have got four of those rounds of 90 days that are set up. And each time it was the Steele dossier that was used primarily to get the FISA warrant.
SCIUTTO: Actually even the memo doesn't say that, but please go ahead.
BROWN: Just very quickly, Congressman King. You say this is clearly politically motivated, but by the time that this FISA application came to the judge, it was in October, just before the election, Carter Page had already left the campaign.
And up until now, the Trump administration has been saying that Carter Page wasn't really part of the campaign. And if it was politically motivated, why didn't Director Comey talk about it before the election as he did with the Hillary Clinton investigation?
KING (via telephone): Well, it wasn't a high enough profile for Director Comey to talk about it for one thing. It was extraordinary that he spoke about the Clinton investigation at that time for another.
Why did they then choose the timing that they did of October 21st to go forward for that FISA warrant? I mean if this -- they knew this was politically sensitive and could affect the presidential election. And so why didn't they wait until after the election if they had any basis whatsoever?
SCIUTTO: They didn't publicized it, didn't get public -- didn't get public at all.
BROWN: It didn't impact the presidential election because -- right, no one knew about it.
SCIUTTO: What was the impact on election if it was done in private as FISA court requests are always done?
KING (via telephone): I'm asking instead what did they need that information so intently for that they had to engage in something like this within two weeks before an election? I think that is suspicious. But we're not going to know on this until we get to the end of it.
And if we remember -- I do remember Watergate. It took a long time to get all the pieces out. And that's one of the reasons that I'm for all of this to get sunlight on. I don't have anything I want to hide. If this is the legitimate push on the part of FBI and on the part of the DOJ, then that should be able to come out and be proven over time.
The public has to see this. We can't dump it all at once. It has to come out in metered form so the public can absorb it. But I have very much confidence in Devin Nunes. He wouldn't put a document out like that unless he could defend every single word of it. And he would not make a move unless he could game this out several moves forward. I think he announced that when he said the next phase is State Department.
SCIUTTO: Congressman King, thanks very much for taking the time on a Friday night.
BROWN: Thank you, congressman. We appreciate it.
KING (via telephone): Thank you too, Jim and Pamela.
SCIUTTO: Now we are going to bring in Congressman Eric Swalwell. He is a California Democrat. He is a member of the Intelligence Committee and one of the people who was there listening to Andrew McCabe. Congressman Swalwell, thank you as well.
You heard, I imagine, Congressman Steve King there, the allegation he made. First, on the issue of McCabe. In the Nunes memo, it says that McCabe testified before the committee in December of 2017, that the warrant against Page would not have been sought, would not have been issued without the Steele dossier, the fact that it depended on the Steele dossier. Is that accurate?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: No, Jim. Good evening. That's not what he said. And our memo if released would shine further light on that and put into focus that the real evidence that's out there not only would raise the seriousness of this investigation because of the new evidence that's so far been unseen but also would further bolster FBI credibility.
BROWN: So Congressman Swalwell, you just heard Congressman King saying look, this was clearly politically motivated. Is there not reason to raise the question, to wonder if it is possible there was an abuse of the civil liberties of Carter Page, that a political document was used to get the FISA warrant for Page and it wasn't disclosed to the judge?
SWALWELL: You know, no one is above the law. The FBI certainly is not above the law. But what this is doing is it's politicizing the FBI in a first world democracy. You are seeing the political leader, the president and aided by Republicans, going after the police who are investigating them.
One other issue that I have with this is that the Republicans by sending this memo before it was declassified to the White House, they essentially shared with the president, whose campaign is under investigation, and with the White House counsel, who is a subject or a witness of this investigation, evidence in the case. So you have now read them in or given them a
[23:25:00] window into evidence, so that they could tailor testimony around what they now know about the investigation. That's not how you conduct investigations. That's another reason why this is so wrong.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because this gets to the bigger picture issue. We said this before earlier as well that -- listen, there is a legitimate debate that has to happen in this country and in a democracy about how far law enforcement can go, particularly to surveil Americans, right, we're American citizens, we have rights here.
And you know as well as me that FISA courts, pretty good hit rate. If you are applying for these warrants, very rarely are they turned down. You're a former prosecutor. When you look at this process, do you say listen, it's a little too easy and perhaps there is some evidence in this surveillance warrant application that it was too easy for the FBI?
SWALWELL: Jim, I've seen all of the evidence so far in this investigation. I've sat through the witness testimony. I have not seen anything that would suggest that there was a bias here or anything done improperly. And you're right, it's important for us to have that debate about the FISA court, but we already had it.
Just a few weeks back, Devin Nunes spoke on the floor as did Steve King asking the Congress to reauthorize FISA and to make no reform that would address the abuses that they claim exist, which leads me to believe --
BROWN: And that was the FISA --
SWALWELL: -- this is just a reckless way -- the 702.
BROWN: That was 702 which is monitoring of foreign citizens. But Congressman King brought up the democratic memo because a lot of questions have been raised about that and why that wasn't also released.
But he said that there was a lot in there, Congressman Swalwell, about sources and methods. What can you tell us? What specifics can you tell us about that memo? What do you have to say to his accusation that there was a lot in there that wasn't appropriate?
SWALWELL: I heard him say that, but I don't believe he said that he had read the memo. You know, our memo rebuts point by point what the Republicans have alleged, but also it uses footnotes, unlike anything that they put forward. And further it unfortunately opens up new evidence in this case just to rebut what they've put out there.
You know, I don't think we want any of this in the public light while an ongoing investigation is occurring. But if we allow the Republicans to taint, you know, the investigation and the public sentiment against the FBI, we're left only to put this into, you know, a full picture for the American people to understand.
SCIUTTO: Congressman Swalwell, thank you for joining us tonight.
BROWN: Thank you, congressman.
SWALWELL: Of course. Thank you, guys, my pleasure.
BROWN: And when we come back on this Friday evening, the former Trump aide at the center of the Nunes memo. Everything we know about Carter Page, his role in the Trump campaign and the investigation. We'll be back.
[23:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SCIUTTO: And welcome back. Carter Page, the one-time Trump campaign foreign policy adviser is, of course, at the center of this controversial GOP memo released today.
Let's bring in our CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. He is a former CIA operative and two national security analyst for CNN, Steve Hall, retired chief CIA Russian operations and, Nada Bakos, she is also a former CIA analyst.
We have been a little intelligence experience surrounding the panel right here tonight, which is good to have. Because we want to talk about Carter Page who is -- I mean, suppose being investigated here is at least a target of Russian intelligence. Let's listen for a moment how the Trump campaign and administration has described Carter Page.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Carter Page is an individual who the president elect does not know.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: He is not part of our national security or foreign policy briefings that we do now at all.
COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: To the best of my recollection, I don't know Carter Page. To the best of my knowledge, Carter Page never had a Donald Trump.com email address, had no formal role in the campaign that I'm aware of.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think I've ever spoken to him. I don't think I've ever met him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: That was spin you were just hearing in case you didn't recognize it because in fact he did work for the campaign. And now in effect, Bob Baer, in this memo the nuns he is saying listen because Carter Page was targeted by the FBI, therefore, the FBI and intelligence agencies were targeting the Trump campaign.
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: That is nonsense. They targeted Carter Page because 2013, he pops up in a counterintelligence investigation. He was being developed by the Russians. They were looking at him to become a source to the KGB.
And normally the FBI -- in fact they went to warn him about this recruitment effort, he ignored them but when he pops up in the Trump campaign, the FBI would have been negligent not to seek a FISA on him and take a closer look. Because all of a sudden now, he has got access and it really worries the FBI and they have to pursue this guy.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: But they can't just go to the judge and say look, we had a FISA on this guy in 2013. We need another one, now as part of the campaign, right? I mean--
BAER: Well, we're not seeing -- we're not seeing the metadata, we are not seeing National Security agency intercept, we are not seeing the CIA reporting.
BROWN: But we know he went to Moscow in July of 2017. BAER: Exactly.
BROWN: And met with government -- Russian government official.
BROWN: And he is meeting with KGB officers very close to Putin. He is making pro Russian statements. He fits the profile of somebody the KGB would recruit.
And plus you have all this other stuff not just the Steele stuff, there is tons of it we're not seeing from the FISA that make you very suspicious of this guy. So the FBI going after him was not an overreach in any way.
SCIUTTO: Steve Hall you, of course, led the station in Moscow for a time, so you know a thing or two about Russian intelligence gathering efforts.
Why would Russian Intelligence be interested in someone like Carter Page, who regardless of the protest stations, he did had a campaign role, but it was a mile -- it was a low level campaign role in the Trump election effort.
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You have to remember, Jim, this is a multi-pronged operation that the Russians were involved in. There was a lot of different disciplines that were involved from disinformation to influence operations to standard recruitment operations.
[23:35:00] And so, I think what has come over the past couple of months is the Russians cast a very wide net. They look at people like Paul Manafort. They looked at people like Mike Flynn.
They looked at people inside the -- inside the Trump family, whether it's Mr. Kushner or whether it was Donald Trump Jr. And of course a guy like Carter Page is also conceivably somebody who could provide them with one of two things.
Either simply inside information as to what was going on in the campaign. And if Carter Page landed a job later on in the administration it also could provide them information as to the plans and intentions of the administration were.
And of course the best of possibilities for any candidate, whether it's Page or somebody else, would have been what we refer to as agent of influence, somebody they could whisper into the ear and say, hey, next time there is a meeting about Russian sanctions or the Ukraine, or anything else important to Russia, put in a good word for us.
Quietly, you know, see if you can't get the conversation going in our direction. So they were looking at a lot of different people not just -- not just the guy like Carter Page.
SCIUTTO: We have to be clear though, that despite the fact that we know he was being surveilled Carter Page hasn't been charged with a crime.
BROWN: That's correct.
SCIUTTO: We don't know he committed any acts like this.
BROWN: Four people have in the Russia probe, not Carter Page--
BROWN: -- I mean, that is important. And we really, frankly, don't know where things stand with him at this point. I want to bring you in, Nada, because a memo today says the George Papadopoulos, the former campaign aide who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI was mentioned in the FISA application.
And it says Papadopoulos sparked the beginning of the Russia probe in July 2016. We know from our reporting that Papadopoulos has told, an Australian ambassador that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton and the ambassador told the FBI and that kicked everything off.
The memo tried to make it seem like there no connection between Page and Papadopoulos, no communication. So, how could the Papadopoulos bit of this be relevant to the Carter Page FISA warrant?
NADA BAKOS, CNN NATIONAL SECURTIY ANALYST: What I think is interesting about the fact that they included this piece is it does undermine their overall point. They're saying the FISA application was predicated on Carter Page and the Steele dossier.
We know from the memo itself that Papadopoulos really is what instigated the Russia investigation. So the person that had drafted this memo honestly if I was Nunes I would fire them because at this point the memo is not worth what it's written on. It doesn't actually state a case for why Carter Page had anything to do with the instigation of the Russian investigation.
SCIUTTO: It's fascinating. Thanks to all of you your intelligence expertise, Nada, Steve and Bob Baer. Good to see you.
BROWN: Yes, thanks for staying up late with us. The question, is the memo, the smoking gun that the president and republicans think it is and what impact could it have on Robert Mueller's investigation. We'll try to answer those questions after this. Stay with us.
[23:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: The White House and some of the GOP paining the so-called Nunes memo as a smoking gun with these allegations of abuse of FISA warrants. Democrats slamming the memo as inaccurate and misleading, so which is it?
Let's ask, David Rivkin, former legal adviser to the counsel for President Reagan, and CNN legal analyst, Michael Zeldin, former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Department of Justice.
First question to you, Michael, considering the fact you worked with Robert Mueller, what kind of impact do you think all of this will have on the Russia investigation? And also, how do you think Robert Mueller -- I mean he is sitting back
today, watching all of this play out. What do you think he is thinking?
I mean, Swalwell -- Congressman Swalwell brought up the point that in a sense President Trump is now looking at evidence that was in this memo and an investigation that is looking at him and his campaign.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that's a fair point, though the memo itself is really pretty devoid of substance that might tip the hand of the prosecutors with respect to McGahn or the president or anybody in his orbit.
So I think the congressman is correct that it was really poorly executed from that standpoint. But I think in the end, there is not enough there to really tip his hand.
With respect to what impact does it have on the investigation, you can look at it in a couple of ways, one with respect to the obstruction of justice -- alleged obstruction of justice allegations, we have reported that the president has been talking to his friends, that he is going to release this memo because he thinks it will damage the Mueller investigation.
So that's almost an admission of intent to interfere with or obstruct an investigation. So I think Mueller can take note of that.
It's another one of these examples where the president is giving Mueller a window into his intentions as he did when we learned that he had ordered McGahn -- to order Rosenstein to fire Mueller, and that when he drafted the misleading memorandum on Air Force One.
So we get a picture of what this president is thinking with respect to the investigation. With respect to the collusion stuff--
ZELDIN: Just give me one second. If you don't mind, Jim. On the collusion stuff, what with we don't know is whether this FISA warrant was targeted against Carter Page in his sort of individual capacity or Carter Page in a broader sort of conspiracy coordination sense.
And it's hard to know. Because the Steele dossier which is essentially 17 memoranda have two as they relate to Page and they relate to his conversations with the head of the Russian national oil company, and it relates to the relief of sanctions.
SCIUTTO: OK. Well, let's set that aside for a moment because I want to zero in on the memo and what we learned. So, you heard, Michael Zeldin, there make the point that, you know, the central allegation of how -- you know, this was all about the dossier, you know.
And how this warrant was obtained not backed up by the evidence there but also prior to the release you had the FBI and members of the intelligence community throwing hands in the air saying, we are going to reveal this grave -- these grave details about national security issues. I mean as you read this memo, did you see secrets revealed in effect about the way you surveil?
DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OFFICE OF POLICY DEVELOPMENT FOR THE DOJ: What I saw and it's not dispositive -- let's forget about speculation and what the president's motivations have been. Let's focus on the memo.
It reveals very troubling facts in at least three respects. Clearly at best, the FISA application did not contain all the information about Mr. Steele, the context for the dossier, the fact that he was discharged as an FBI informant. And the fact -- and this memorandum was the critical piece as director -- deputy Director McCabe testified, without it there would not have been a warrant.
[23:45:00] BROWN: That's a Republican--
SCIUTTO: -- the Democrats and actually, I should say not just Republicans--
RIVKIN: But let's see -- let's see. But the point is, without it, the fact that they put in there indicates if at least on a but for base it was necessary. So let's focus--
SCIUTTO: How do you know -- how do you know that it was?
RIVKIN: Because -- because you don't put things in application to the extraneous, if you didn't need, you wouldn't have put it there. But at the very least, they didn't release all the information.
I can think of no good reason in the FISA context where DOJ and FBI not to tell everything to the FISA court. So at the very least it was incomplete. Number one, what nobody is saying and also what's troubling is the timing.
That warrant was sought roughly two weeks before the election. The DOJ has a longstanding policy reflected by the way in Eric hold this 2012 memo, which says you don't investigate unless it's absolutely necessary during the time of elections. Because it runs the danger as it happened of leaks and impacting the political process.
SCIUTTO: Why didn't they do it in 2013? He was no longer part of the campaign and it did not -- it did not leak out.
RIVKIN: Of course, there were leaks -- numerous leaks about the investigation.
SCIUTTO: Not before the election relating to this.
RIVKIN: My point is, it makes no sense not to wait for a couple of weeks after the election is over, or much earlier. It is not a question whether or not he was part of the campaign at that time.
Everybody who sought it knew that he would have conversations with the campaign officials, which is called indirect targeting. My point is this, the timing is it troubling. The content of application is troubling.
The fact that FBI fought for a year not to give any information and had to be threatened with contempt, and the fact is we do know now that they misled the American people by claiming their sources and methods being jeopardized.
Look, I have read this memo. There is zero -- zero damage to sources and efforts. The only reason they try to fight it, is because it embarrasses them. That's not good enough reason.
BROWN: But do you think they had -- do you think that Director Wray was right and that he was concerned there were some critical omissions?
RIVKIN: Well let -- let them come--
BROWN: We know some of the omissions are the information -- other information used to get the application.
RIVKIN: But let's deal with that. Let's have an investigation look at the facts. Let's stop talking about what Trump intended, what somebody else intended. It is what I would say is, it's not this positive but it's very troubling. If there was any other context everybody on the Democrat side would be troubled by that.
SCIUTTO: All right, David Rivkin, Michael Zeldin, as always, thanks very much. The Nunes memo certainly has some people asking whether we're on the eve of another Saturday night massacre.
But is that a fair parallel? And how will today's actions by Nunes and the White House go down in history? Our historians are going to join us next to answer those questions.
[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BROWN: Well, Democrats are warning President Trump that using the Nunes memo to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or Special Counsel Robert Mueller could spark a constitutional crisis, just the latest comparison being drawn to the Watergate era.
Let's get some historical context with CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley and Timothy Naftali. Thank you both, gentlemen, for coming on this late Friday evening.
Doug, first to you. With the release of this memo, there have been these comparisons to McCarthy, there have been comparisons to Nixon. You know, you guys are historians. Tell us how you see it. You first, Doug.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, if Rod Rosenstein would have been fired by Donald Trump, it really would have added to the Saturday night massacre analogy, which took place on October 20th, 1973, when Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox. As it is, it's been feeling like a Saturday night massacre in slow
motion. The firing of Comey early in '17 and recent -- you know, and Yates' situation and of course, McCabe's early resignation.
The similarities to me are Richard Nixon abused power, obstructed justice, and we see Donald Trump at least looking like he obstructed justice. I think the big news today really in the end is that the Mueller report keeps on going.
And if this was the Republicans' and Trump's attempt to undermine Mueller, I think it failed miserably, but who knows, maybe Donald Trump will still fire Rod Rosenstein. It was smart of him not to have.
SCIUTTO: Tim, I wonder if you agree with this. Because I think when you look at this, I mean for instance, you have the FBI director, the one who came in with the president's, you know, seal of approval after he fired James Comey, standing up to the president here.
Do you see evidence here that the institutions, in effect, are holding, right? That it's not, you know, a sort of redacts of the Saturday Night massacre, et cetera, you know, Nixon, Watergate.
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, a couple things. First of all, I think the institutions are doing well, but they're doing well in a hurricane. I mean what's unprecedented about today's release is that it's the first time that two branches of government have coordinated an attack on the independence of the FBI.
In our history, we've had executive branches that have tried to undermine the FBI, generally secretly, not publicly, the way that President Trump has. And there have been times when Congress has gone after the FBI and investigated it.
But this is the first time that both branches have gone at it at the same time. So what we're watching now is a real test of the strength of that fine institution. I would also -- I'd like to point out that during the Watergate era, President Nixon did engage in selective declassification in order to defend himself.
It was wrong then, and it's equally wrong now. There's a real problem for the FBI, let alone the Democrats in Congress. How does the FBI defend itself? The FISA application process is highly secret.
This is the first time that the U.S. government has declassified it. The FBI can't fight back. The materials they have, they can't declassify without the help of the White House.
So what's the FBI supposed to do now? How can it tell the American people, look, we've been -- our work has been mischaracterized?
[23:55:00] We've been discredited. It's not right. It's not true.
SCIUTTO: They've gone -- they've gone public with exactly, I mean that rare statement from Christopher Wray earlier this week.
BROWN: They can't talk about the specifics because it is classified.
NAFTALI: They can't talk about the specifics. They can't -- in an earlier segment, you had this discussion as to whether or not the deputy director -- former deputy director McCabe had said that the Steele memo was central to the FISA warrant for Carter Page. Well, we don't have the deposition. We don't have his testimony. We don't know what he said. We have to take it at face value.
SCIUTTO: That could be released, though. They could vote to release it.
BROWN: I hope it is. If they're all about transparency, hopefully they'll release that. I want to go to you, Doug. Bring you back in. Because like President Trump, President Nixon waged war on the media, but the difference is President Trump has a friendly network on his side, which apparently leaked the memo before--
SCIUTTO: They got it before. It was on the air before they briefed all the reporters.
BROWN: -- the reporter did. How much of a difference is that making?
BRINKLEY: It's a gigantic difference. I mean, Tim, touched on one, that Nixon had to deal with the Democrats on Capitol Hill and back during the Saturday night massacre days, you had Republican senators, a power like Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott telling Nixon that you lied.
You don't see these profiles of courage on Republicans on Capitol Hill with the exception of John McCain, who wrote a very powerful comment today. But look, in the 1970s, there was no Fox News. There was no Breitbart. They didn't have that kind of echo chamber. You simply had network television and The New York Times and Washington post.
But of course things have changed and I don't think Donald Trump would be able to survive like he is now without the oxygen that's being pumped into him on Fox. If you put on Fox right now -- I'm not suggesting viewers do -- it is 180 degrees opposite of what's being said on CNN.
SCIUTTO: Doug Brinkley, Tim Naftali, thanks so much for joining us on this Friday night. We wish you both a very good weekend. Thanks to all of you for joining us as well. Stay with CNN for more on the Russia investigation tonight.
BROWN: Have a great night and a great weekend.