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White House Worried FBI Chief Could Quit Over Memo Release; Ryan, McConnell Speak at Retreat; Briefing on Nunes Memo; Trump Sees Nunes Memo as Way to Discredit Russia Probe. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 01, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We now have a new statement in. This is the president from the FBI Agents Association releasing this. Let me just read it for you. "The FBI Agents Association appreciates FBI Director Chris Wray standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of the FBI as we work together to protect our country from criminal and national security threats.

As Director Wray noted, FBI special agents have remained steadfast in their dedication to professionalism. And we remain focused on our important work to protect the country from terrorists and criminals, both domestic and international. Special agents take a solemn oath to our country and to the Constitution. And the American public continues to be well served by the world's preeminent law enforcement agency."

So with me, someone who actually knows Christopher Wray, is Garrett Graff. He's our CNN contributor. And we keep talking about his frustration, and we know that the president is frustrated because, obviously, he wants to release this memo. But Chris Wray, what kind of man is he? Tell me what you know.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that there was a perhaps a misunderstanding last summer when Christopher Wray was initially put up for this job that he was going to be some sort of sympathetic Trump stooge, sort of a Trump plant at the White House. But Christopher Wray has a long and distinguished history within the Justice Department. This is someone who was the assistant attorney general for the criminal division in the years after 9/11, which was actually the unit overseeing the counterterrorism portfolio at the time.

It was before the reorganization that led to the national security division and so this is someone who was right there in that post-9/11 crucible with men like Robert Mueller, with men like Jim Comey and many people don't realize that Christopher Wray actually in the famous 2004 hospital incident that saw James Comey and Robert Mueller prepared to resign over the NSA domestic program that Christopher Wray, who was assistant attorney general then, was prepared to resign with them. He was not read into the program. He didn't know what the controversy was, but he stopped --


BALDWIN: He was with them.

GRAFF: He stopped James Comey in the hallway.


GRAFF: And he said, look, I know there's something going on here, when you pull the rip cord, make sure to tell me so that I can jump with you. And that he knew that if Robert Mueller and James Comey were prepared to resign over something that it was worth resigning as well. That's the man of sort of in defense of the Justice Department's prerogatives as the defender of the Constitution that he is.

BALDWIN: So given everything you've just told me and the fact that Wray, according to our justice correspondent, is saying Wray's frustrated, top White House officials are worried he'll resign over this because you have this clash of the president of the United States who wants to get this memo out there to discredit the Mueller investigation and you have the top of the FBI saying no.

GRAFF: This is an unprecedented moment. I think that we -- in these stories often get caught up in, like, this is more Democratic/Republicans partisan squabbling in Washington.

BALDWIN: No, it's intelligence.

GRAFF: This is something we've never seen in American history before. I think it's quite notable, Brooke, that Christopher Wray is right now standing there by himself, the FISA process, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process, since Watergate, has been the only legal way for U.S. intelligence agencies to gather foreign intelligence information on U.S. persons.


BALDWIN: And this isn't just the FBI.

GRAFF: This isn't just the FBI.

BALDWIN: This is the CIA.

GRAFF: This is the only legal way to do this. This is an important Intelligence Community equity to defend the -- the sort of integrity of this process. And I think it's really notable that you're not seeing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, you're not seeing NSA Director Mike Rogers, you're not seeing CIA Director Mike Pompeo --


BALDWIN: Come behind him and say we agree with you don't release the memo.

Let me hit pause on this conversation.

We want to go to West Virginia where the House speaker is speaking at this conference. REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So take home pay is

going up, wages are going up, benefits are going up, businesses are expanding. Consumer confidence is at a 17-year high while unemployment is at a 17-year low. Tax reform is working.

But one of the reasons we're here in West Virginia is because we want to build on this success of 2017 in 2018. We want to make sure that Secretary Mattis, who we heard from this morning, has the tools and resources he needs to rebuild our military. We need to close the skills gap in this country. And we need to help people to move from welfare to work so they can tap their true potential. We've made great progress but there's more to do. And that is why we're excited about having the president here today to work on this shared agenda.

I want to thank him, the vice president and all the members of the administration who have joined us here in West Virginia to talk about this agenda.

I especially want to thank Senator Mitch McConnell and our Senate colleagues for joining us here.

We're very excited about making more progress for the American people in 2018.

[14:35:19] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Mr. Speaker, thanks for inviting us to join your retreat.

I think the speaker's done an excellent job of outlining all the good things that are coming about as a result of the comprehensive tax reform bill that we passed in December. Having been here a while, I'm in a good position to compare 2017 with other years. And if you prefer a right-of-center America, as virtually every Republican does, there was never a better year than 2017 in the time I've been here, which would cover three decades.

Starting with the Supreme Court, now 13 circuit judges, but the 12 we did last year were the most in the first year of any administration since the circuit courts were established in 1891. We used the Congressional Review Act 15 times to try to deal with the regulatory rampage that occurred during the Obama years. It had only been used once in history. And finally, as the speaker outlined, the incredible success of this tax reform legislation. You mentioned UPS, which happens to be the single biggest employer in Kentucky. And the employees all across the country are benefiting from what we did last fall. It is the reason for optimism, for growth, the opportunity to get our country growing again. Think of it this way, taking your foot off the brake and putting it on the accelerator and giving America the opportunity to reach its potential.

RYAN: Does anyone have any questions?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. President Trump saying the memo should be released, it would pose a great danger. RYAN: Let me just step back for a second. First of all, let me tell

you what this memo is and what it is not. What this memo is, is Congress doing its job in conducting legitimate oversight over a very unique law FISA and if mistakes were made and if individuals did something wrong then it is our job as the legislative branch of government to conduct oversight over the executive branch if abuses were made. Remember, FISA is a unique situation which involves Americans civil liberties and if American civil liberties were abused, then that needs to come to light so that that doesn't happen again.

What this is not, is an indictment on our institutions of our justice system. This memo is not indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general. What it is, is the Congress's legitimate function of oversight to make sure that the FISA process is being used correctly and that if it wasn't being used correctly, that needs to come to light and people need to be held accountable so we do not have problems again because this does affect our civil liberties.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) -- to remove Chairman Nunes from his position, what's your response to that?

RYAN: They're just playing politics and they're looking for a political distraction is what I get out of that. The tax cuts are working. Tax reform is working. We've got ISIS on the run. Things are going well. Economic confidence is at a 17-year high. They would love nothing more than to play politics and change the subject. Devin Nunes helped shepherd through a reauthorization of 702, which is the foreign terrorist form surveillance law, so he's focused on keeping our country safe, focused on national security. What they're trying to do is side track us with some political game.

OK, you yelled out. You don't get called on.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Where do you guys stand on -- (INAUDIBLE)

RYAN: We've been both talking about the C.R. For first of all, the reason we're having these C.R.s in the first place is because the Democrats have been holding the cap agreement hostage for an unrelated issue. So if we would've had our cap agreement in place by now we would not be having to do these C.R.s. Having said all of that, I think we're making progress on a cap agreement.

And even if we get everything figured out by Tuesday, we still have to have a C.R., if only for the fact that we have to get the appropriators time to write an omnibus appropriations bill. There will have to be a C.R. just to give the Appropriations Committee time to write an appropriations bill. We're still negotiating the contents and duration of that.

You want to jump in there? [14:40:06] MCCONNELL: I might just add, I don't think we'll see a threaten in government shutdown again over this subject. One of my favorite old Kentucky country saying there's no education in the second kick of a mule, and so I think there will be a new level of seriousness here in trying to resolve these issues the speaker outlined as we go forward.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Immigration bill soon can you tell us which bill that's going to be?

MCCONNELL: No. What I've said, what I said Friday, last Friday, or a week ago tomorrow, was if the immigration issue was not resolved inside the global discussions that the speaker's been talking about that we had going on, which the Democrats have trying to shoehorn the immigration issue into that collection of discussions. If those are not resolved, I'm perfectly happy, provided the government is still open on February the 8th, to go to the subject and to treat it in a fair way, not try to tilt the playing field in anybody's direction, and we'll see who can get to 60 votes.

RYAN: Jake?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Any reaction to the reports that Nunes changed this memo after it was voted on?

RYAN: My understanding was before. The question was the memo, it's important that we scrub these memos for any sources and methods that could reveal national security our compromise national security. That scrubbing has taken place. In consultation with the FBI, they made a change to register those concerns. And then they voted on releasing the memo to the White House. So the process is exactly what it should have been. Scrub to make sure that there are no sources and methods being revealed. When a matter was brought to the attention of the committee, they addressed that matter, and then they went through the committee process.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, Republicans are traditionally the party of law and order. You have an FBI director saying please don't release this memo, it is misleading and incomplete. He was appointed by Republican president. Doesn't that give you pause?

RYAN: No. What concerns me is if we are violating American civil liberties. This FISA law is a very unique law. The FISA law title one, there's been some confusion about different titles in this law. This law allows the government to go to a secret court to get a wiretap on a citizen. So this is incredible power that the people of this country, through Congress, has given our executive branch of government. We have to make sure that this power is being exercised properly and judiciously. And if there are institutions or -- excuse me -- if there are instances or individuals who have abused that power, it is our job in Congress to shed light on that and bring transparency and accountability to the process.

Let me just say, the vast, vast, vast majority of the men and women of the FBI are doing a great job. These institutions, the Department of Justice, the FBI, very important institutions for the rule of law. But it's also very important that we guard peoples' civil liberties as we exercise these institutions. Like I said to you on Tuesday, the men and women over at the Milwaukee office, at the field office of the FBI, they're the ones helping to keep opioids out of our school. They're doing a fantastic job. We also have to make sure if there are certain individuals who did the wrong thing, who either brought bias or cut corners or did something wrong that implicates American civil liberties, it is our job as congressional overseers to bring people to account so it doesn't happen again.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes. Senator McConnell, have you seen the memo and secondly, do you agree with Senator -- (INAUDIBLE)

MCCONNELL: No, I haven't. And I don't have any suggestions to make to the speaker. I think he's handling this just right.


RYAN: Last question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Speaker, do you really believe that this memo has nothing at all to do and no impact on the special counsel's investigation.

RYAN: What I'm trying to say is people should not draw lines. People should not implicate.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: They are drawing lines.

RYAN: That's what I'm saying. People should not be drawing lines or implicating independent issues. This does not implicate the Mueller investigation. This does not implicate the DAG. This is about us holding the system accountable and reviewing whether or not FISA abuses occur. The government has been given extraordinary power over citizens' civil liberties. It is our job to make sure that the process is followed properly. And if it's not followed properly, then we need accountability. I say let all of it out so long as we're not involving sources and methods. So as long as we're not revealing sources and methods to protect our national security, the more transparency the better. So the people can see their civil liberties are being protected, the Constitution is being followed. It's the correct anecdote for this. And that is why the legislative branch of government, this dually elected branch of government, conducts its oversight over the executive branch of government.

Thank you very much. I appreciate it.


[14:45:39] BALDWIN: OK. So you just had the top Republican both in the House and the Senate there and really mostly Speaker Ryan. And this is the line that I think is key that I just jotted down talking about this memo, right, and the release. The speaker said, "This doesn't implicate the Mueller investigation, it doesn't implicate the DAG, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein." But that goes against what the president from the White House our sources is hoping it will absolutely discredit the Mueller investigation so let -- I've still got Garrett Graff hanging out with me.

Let me bring in two more voices. CNN political commentator, Amanda Carpenter, she's the former communications director for Senator Ted Cruz. And CNN political analyst, Brian Karem, who is the executive editor for "Sentinel Newspapers."

Brian, starting with you. Again, you heard my point, right, it's like Speaker Ryan says, no, no, no this doesn't affect the Mueller investigation with what we're hearing from the president is yes, yes, yes, this should discredit it.

BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And you're hearing that from the FBI. That is the most disingenuous piece of verbiage I've heard today. This is a tipping point for our democracy. Are we going to be a democracy after today or is this going to be demagoguery? He talks about transparency and this is an administration that hasn't had a solo press conference in a year or press briefing in the last week and a half. They don't talk to the press. We have to go on the South Lawn to try and get in touch with the president and shout questions at him.

If you're going to be transparent, then you release the Democratic version of it as well. You release all of it if you're going to be transparent. This isn't transparency. This is obfuscation. This is simply, and nothing else, but a power play. A demagogue pushing back against the democratic process. And you've got the FBI -- and you may say a lot of things about the FBI, and I've covered them for 30 years. But corrupt, no. I'm sorry. They do their job and they do their job very well. If the head of the FBI you appointed is telling you not to do it, you don't do. He doesn't care. This is a mafia boss gone mad.

BALDWIN: Amanda, what are you thinking?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It seems to me that the Republicans getting behind releasing the memo are putting a lot of faith that is not deserved into Devin Nunes and Carter Page. Everyone pretty much suspects that this whole FISA debate has to do with whether FISA was appropriately obtained to keep tabs on Carter Page.

This is the same Carter Page that was under FBI watch since 2013 when he was hanging out with Russian agents attempting to recruit Americans. This is the same Carter Page that lied and misled about his meetings with Russians. And let's keep in mind this wiretap was not obtained until Carter Page left the campaign. So I think Speaker Ryan is possibly trying to thread the needle here in saying this doesn't have to do with the campaign or the investigation into Trump's campaign because Carter Page wasn't a member of a campaign at the time. But throw out Carter Page from the whole debate. Carter Page has nothing to do with Paul Manafort. He has nothing to do with Michael Flynn lying about his contacts with Russians. Carter Page has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos. And Carter Page has nothing to do with the Trump Tower meeting that really should be more concerning to everyone. I would almost quit asking questions about the memo until we see the stupid thing --


-- and pay more attention until, you know --


CARPENTER: The Trump Tower meeting is much more concerning.


CARPENTER: Listen, I wrote a whole article about this. I think it's a huge gas light. A big decoy to get people not to pay attention to the appropriate things.

KAREM: Well, the appropriate thing --


BALDWIN: Hey, maybe you're right on the money.

Speaking of the stupid thing, to quote you, we're now hearing the administration official saying the White House will tell Congress that the release of this memo is probably tomorrow and so there you have, probably tomorrow. The president is OK with the memo. Doubts there will be redactions.

Garrett, that flies in the face, obviously, of what we heard from the public statement from the FBI, the semi-private meeting Monday night at the White House. Flies in the face of it.

GRAFF: One of the things that's important to remember in this is that the FBI's objection isn't so much the sources and methods, that the redactions, even if they exist, even if they happen, the FBI's objection, Christopher Wray's objection is that its fundamentally misleading.


[14:50:05] BALDWIN: Explain that. Explain that.

GRAFF: That the memo leaves out key evidence, that it has omissions of fact, and that he has grave concern. Now that grave concern in government is a pretty specific phrase. Grave is often a term that deals with top-secret information. Top-secret information, by definition, being something that if its release could cause grave damage to national security.


BALDWIN: Can you give me an example? When you say misleading information, like what?

GRAFF: I think one of the things that it seems like -- again, we haven't seen this memo.


GRAFF: But from sort of what we have --

BALDWIN: Ascertained.

GRAFF: -- ascertained so far that this is a memo dealing with so- called abuses of the FISA process dealing with Carter Page as Amanda was just saying. This memo, though, what we believe it contains is sort of the idea that Republicans on the House Intel Committee are alleging that basically the FBI took the Steele dossier and signed "me want warrant" across the top of the document and handed it in to a federal judge who rubber stamped it and sent it off to be implemented as a FISA warrant. And that's just fundamentally not how these systems work.

And as Amanda said, I'm old enough to remember two years ago when Carter Page was unidentified male number one on the audio tapes that the FBI made of Russian SVR agents speaking in the New York resident Torah (ph) about trying to recruit Carter Page as an asset to Russian intelligence. This is someone who this is not something that just popped up last summer and was rubber stamped by the FISA court.


CARPENTER: One thing I would say, Republicans, if you're going on the Steele dossier, any way that could read the reports from the Carter Page can probably guess what was in the FISA application. Maybe they should do a Lexus Nexus search before they release this stupid memo.

KAREM: If you're going to release it, release all of it. The more important thing is, again, don't listen, like what Amanda was talking about earlier. This is all obfuscation to keep the real issue at hand away. This is an administration that does not enjoy or respect the rule of law. This is an administration that wants to run as a despot. And this is an administration that doesn't care about the democratic process or the FBI or the Department of Justice. You're either on the president's team or you're off the team. If you're on the team, he'll make excuses for you. If you're off the team, he'll bury you. How many people involved in the Mueller investigation has this president already gone after? And how many more will he go after until he puts it to an end? He thinks it's a witch hunt? Let it go through until its end and let's find out.

BALDWIN: Let's talk about the House Intelligence Committee, Amanda. It's like a straight-up mess. We're getting word that the Democrats are now claiming that Chairman Nunes made five material changes to this memo. Republicans say that they're minor, insignificant, and there will be no revote.

CARPENTER: I would say, for the Democrats, they better be substantive changes. They made this a big counterargument. It better be a lot more than the changing of a comma. Again, like we're all just speculating and everybody's playing politics with it based on a memo written by Devin Nunes's staff who's already been caught misleading the public about intelligence matters because of tampering from the White House. KAREM: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Wasn't he tiptoeing around the White House --


CARPENTER: Yes, he was jumping out of his car. The staff didn't even know where he went.


BALDWIN: That's right.

CARPENTER: Why is everybody trusting Devin Nunes?

KAREN: Exactly.

CARPENTER: There are many other Republicans who are credible, who have experience on these issues. He isn't one of them. Until I see their faces pop up and doing interviews rather than Matt Gerts (ph) in between interviews, I just don't believe it. Show me the credible Republicans willing to go out and do an interview and talk about this. Until then, I'm not ready to read it until then.


BALDWIN: Amanda Carpenter came to play today.

KAREM: As a reporter, I'm ready to read it. I'm ready to read it. I want to read the whole thing. I want to see the whole thing. If you're going to talk about it, let's see the whole thing.

In regard to, Brooke, about the Intelligence Committee, the only thing I found worse than Republicans in this matter are Democrats. It's like watching two Houses on fire and they're throwing gasoline on each other. It's amazing.

And at the end of the day, if you're going to be transparent, show us everything. If you're not going to be transparent, you're not going to show us anything. If you're going to show us and cherry pick information, then you're only -- you're only going to fan the flames. At the end of the day, people are going to be screaming on either side of the aisle. And at the same time, as at the beginning, as I said, we keep saying it, but this is a tipping point for our democracy. Rule of law or rule by mob? And I prefer the rule of law.

[14:55:27] BALDWIN: Brian, I think we all do.

Brian, Amanda, Garrett, thank you all so very much.

We're going to stay on this breaking news here. Sources say top White House aides are worried that FBI Director Christopher Wray could quit if this highly controversial memo is released.

Stay with us. We're rolling on next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[14:49:55] BALDWIN: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

More breaking news for you this afternoon. A major development in this Russia investigation. Sources tell us the top White House aides are worried that the FBI director, Christopher Wray, could quit if a highly controversial Republican memo is, in fact, released.