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CNN: Trump Influenced Lifting Of Informant's Gag Order; Senate Dem: Trump "Interference Deeply Troubling"; Nigerien Soldier: U.S. Convoy Separated During Ambush; GOP Faces Divisions As Crucial Fight Nears. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired October 27, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:05]

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and happy Friday. I'm Ana Cabrera in for Kate Bolduan. Great to have with us. This morning, President Trump faces new scrutiny for potentially tinkering in an investigation that he compares to Watergate, an investigation that involves his former rival Hillary Clinton.

Now sources tell CNN the president personally pressed the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an FBI informant. That informant can now testify before Congress on what he knew, what he learned, as part of an FBI investigation into Russia's nuclear industry and its efforts to buy U.S. uranium assets during the Obama administration.

Now Republican lawmakers are really leading the charge here. They want to know if Russian donations to the Clinton Foundation had anything to do with this deal being approved because Clinton was secretary of state at the time and the State Department was one of the agencies that had to sign off on the deal.

That brings us to President Trump's reported role in freeing this informant to testify. Did he violate rules limiting White House influence on investigations especially if political rivals are involved? The White House a short time ago brushed off those concerns.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: It is not unusual for a president to weigh in. This president as you saw from everything, the JFK files to this particular ongoing investigation, Alisyn, is for transparency. And he believes, as many others do, frankly, that the FBI informant should be free to say what he knows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Leading House Democrat Adam Schiff wants answers. He tweets, "The president personally intervened with the Department of Justice to advance case against political opponent is beyond disturbing. I intend to pursue in new probe."

Now that would add to a growing list of ongoing Russia investigations, going in all kinds of directions at this point, and frustrating lawmakers and American citizens, frankly, who want answers and want closure.

Let's begin in Washington with CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jessica, you've been looking into exactly what has prompted now this gag order to be lifted for that informant to testify. What can you tell us?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Ana, as Kellyanne Conway did point out this morning, it was Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who first asked the Justice Department to lift the gag order in a letter last week. But when it wasn't immediately lifted, we know that the president took matters into his own hands.

Our Gloria Borger reporting that President Trump directed his senior staff to lift the order on that FBI informant who says he wants to share what he knows about what he's calling corruption surrounding the approval of that 2010 uranium deal.

Of course, Hillary Clinton was on the committee of nine agencies that approved it. So, after the president's order, White House Counsel Don McGahn, he relayed the president's message to the Justice Department and it was Wednesday night when that gag order was lifted.

But here is why Democrats are now crying foul. The Justice Department has strict rules limiting any White House involvement in criminal law enforcement matters, especially when it involves the president's political opponents.

And, of course, it was just earlier this week that the president talked about the uranium deal calling it the Watergate of the modern age and he dug in on it again today, tweeting this, Ana, he said, "It is now commonly agreed after many months of costly looking that there was no collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC," standing for Hillary Clinton there.

Well, of course, there has not been a conclusion in the Russian investigations, those are still on several fronts, as you pointed out, Ana, but you know, this week yet another probe was announced by congressional Republicans.

They're going to be looking into the reported millions of dollars that Russia channeled to the Clinton Foundation at the same time that uranium deal was being approved and whether or not it may have influenced Hillary Clinton in her vote.

She says no way and her staff points out that there were many other agencies involved in approving this deal but Ana, it looks like these questions among all the other ones swirling out there, this will continue to play out on Capitol Hill -- Ana.

CABRERA: Just muddying the waters and we need more answers. Jessica Schneider, thank you for that update.

I want to bring in our guest, Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, they are both here with me, and Caitlan Huey-Burns, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics." So, Jeffery, this FBI informant who we now know was involved in some kind of an FBI investigation at the time that this uranium one deal was happening, he's going to testify before Congress.

Apparently, the president wanted this to happen, told the Justice Department such and the Justice Department ultimately made the decision to lift the gag order. How unusual is this?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what's really unusual and what's very troubling about this is the president getting involved in an investigation of his former and current political rival, Hillary Clinton.

It was because of Watergate that Richard Nixon used the IRS, used the Justice Department to investigate and harass his enemies that policies were put in place. They are not laws, policies that say that the Justice Department is -- should be allowed to do their investigations on their own, that the White House should not interfere.

[11:05:11] This was clear interference for political benefit and they are getting the political benefit because here we are talking about this years, years old investigation of --

CABRERA: We are talking about what they want us to be talking about.

TOOBIN: -- of a private citizen in Chappaqua, New York, rather than an investigation of the president of the United States.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A citizen in Washington, D.C.

CABRERA: They are private citizens now -- but they're private citizens now but the allegations are maybe they did something wrong or illegal perhaps during the Obama administration.

TOOBIN: Correct. But the point that we now have a new president with lots to investigate, but this committee is rather going back into really ancient history now. These -- you're talking about 2009, 2010, and I don't think there's any doubt that this all comes from the nexus of Fox News and the White House who are pushing this story, not because there's any pressing national interest to deal with it.

CABRERA: Dana, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, he sees a pattern of behavior here. Listen to what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Again, what's so striking about the president again intervening in the Department of Justice, is it's part of a pattern of politicization of the Department of Justice. He fired Jim Comey, he's interviewing U.S. attorney candidates in the southern district in New York where he has property, and where there are investigations into money laundering by his associates, so this kind of interference in the Department of Justice is deeply troubling to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: He's calling foul. He brings up some other examples. What can they do about it if Democrats are towing this line?

BASH: Well, look, I mean, call him out on it. That's -- you actually saw that Senator Blumenthal during a hearing with the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, really press him on one of the points that he made there on the president of the United States being involved in the selection of U.S. attorneys. It's not, as you would say, illegal. There's nothing criminal about it.

TOOBIN: Important to point that out.

BASH: But it's just not something that presidents usually do particularly when you have a president coming from the private sector, where some things may come up before a U.S. attorney's office.

CABRERA: A lot of businesses in the jurisdiction.

BASH: Right, in New York and elsewhere where he has properties. So, yes, it is incredibly unusual. But I do think to go back what Jeffrey was saying about that we're talking about what the Republicans want us to talk about, you know, you have a point. We are. We are.

And the Republicans for the past nine months have had a lot of trouble figuring out the right needle to try to thread to kind of punch back politically on the notion of Russia. Particularly because those Republicans who are leading the committees that are investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 election are really interested in knowing the answer to that and they're not towing the Trump line it's not true, that it's a hoax and so forth.

And so, there is giddiness among many Republicans that they have found one thing that they can bring back up, and it just so happens that you do have the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, who has been a long-time proponent of whisteblowers, who wants to know the answers from this informant about what went on.

Not that there's anything that's necessarily going to come of it, but you know what, I think if I'm a Democrat and I get the answer, and it's something that proves that there was nothing untoward, maybe that's a good thing.

CABRERA: Well, and maybe --

BASH: Another thing for all of us we want to know the answers.

CABRERA: But here's the thing, I mean, as Jeffrey pointed out, this is not a new thing. This deal happened years ago during the Obama administration. It wasn't this even talked about. This uranium one deal was talked about during the campaign, Caitlin?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Sure. It was talked about during the campaign, but there were so many other things involving the Clintons that the Trump campaign went after. So there was a saturation, perhaps, but it's also important to point out that Republicans have been in charge of the House for at least six, seven years now.

(CROSSTALK)

HUEY-BURNS: They could have done an investigation earlier, right. That's what Democrats are arguing. Why now, why this. The Republicans on this committee interested in probing this are saying well, we need to know what -- whether the FBI -- whether members of Congress knew about this FBI investigation during this deal.

And so, I do think that looking from a political perspective, the president certainly I think gets a lot out of this because it is so complicated, right. I think most Americans are kind of looking at this and saying, why should we know about this when you have other things going on and then you have it on partisan lines. I think this is an issue that's going to animate kind of both sides from a partisan issue.

[11:10:04] CABRERA: Jeffrey, you brought up the word Watergate.

TOOBIN: As did the president, yes.

CABRERA: And that's what I was going to ask you about. The president says this uranium one deal has the potential to be a modern era Watergate. Does it?

TOOBIN: Well, based on the evidence that is public so far, absolutely not. There is no evidence of any corruption at all. I mean, the person who gave the money to the Clinton Foundation was out of this business by the time this uranium deal went through.

So, the idea that there's some sort of quid pro quo pay for play, seems wrong. But, you know, just remember how important control of Congress is. You know, Adam Schiff tweets today, he is the Democrat from California, he's going to do a probe of the president's intervention. He can't do a probe of anything because he's a Democrat and --

CABRERA: Has to be initiated by the majority Republicans.

TOOBIN: Exactly. So, you know, he can, you know, do Google searches, but there is not a lot that Democrats can do in the House of Representatives at the moment.

CABRERA: And meantime, you talked about the narrative switching Republicans sort of grabbing ahold of another narrative involving Russia pointing fingers at Democrats, they've done the same with this dossier now, the new information that we've learned that this Russian dossier was in fact funded by the Clinton camp, by the DNC.

And yet we also just learned, Dana, that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was the head of the DNC during the campaign and that John Podesta, who is the head of the Clinton campaign, went before congressional investigators, who are looking into the Russia investigation and basically said they didn't know anything about this dossier until we all learned about it publicly.

So, who on the DNC or the Clinton camp would have actually known about these funds going to this research?

BASH: The answer to that is super awkward for the Democrats because it just so happens that the man who did not only know about it but was -- we now are reporting that was kind of went out and hired this group was a man named Mark Elias, who also happens to be the personal attorney for John Podesta and was in the room with when John Podesta was saying, no, I didn't know about it.

Now that all -- John Podesta, you know, he probably almost certainly told the truth. He didn't know about it. He was the campaign chair. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as the DNC chair was even more removed from the idea.

But the fact that Mark Elias and others did know that there was payment involved by the Clinton campaign to get this information and that has been out there for months and months and months, and we're just learning about it now, is just -- it's bad politics and it's just bad policy frankly.

I mean, if we're talking about transparency and you have the Democrats demanding to know things, and I'm not equating the two, just talking about the approach and strategy, demanding to know things about what the Trump campaign did or didn't do with Russia.

And then on the other hand, you know that the Democrats were involved in something that has been a part of that conversation and they haven't said anything, as you said earlier, not a good look.

TOOBIN: They should have -- you know, they should have said there's nothing unlawful or even improper about doing opposition research.

CABRERA: We talked about it.

TOOBIN: By not disclosing that they were the ones who paid for it --

HUEY-BURNS: A lot of them are saying yeah, we should have done this. They're proponents of doing it.

CABRERA: Which goes back to who knew what because there have been some people who have been questioned. Thank you all for coming in. I owe you a question, Caitlin. Didn't have as much time to break it all down.

HUEY-BURNS: No. I love listening. It's great.

CABRERA: Always more to discuss. We'll have you back. Thank you both -- all.

We some have breaking new details, we are also following today in the ISIS ambush in Niger where four U.S. troops were killed. CNN is learning why the soldiers were separated in the fire fight.

Plus, after weeks of teasing a big reveal, President Trump making a last-minute decision to hold back some of the classified JFK documents. What's behind that 11th hour move. We'll discuss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:18:15]

CABRERA: Welcome back. We have exclusive new details about the ambush that killed four American soldiers in the West African nation of Niger. We're now hearing directly from a Nigerien soldier one of the first on the scene after that attack. That soldier also saw the American Green Berets the day before the ambush. He says they were wearing t-shirts and baseball caps. They didn't have sufficient weapons on them.

I want to bring in CNN's David McKenzie in Niger with the latest details. David, what more do we know?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I first want to bring you, Ana, some new details from U.S. officials that we've just got this information. Now according to those two officials, four of the -- the four U.S. soldiers who were killed were in fact in the same part of that separated convoy during that ambush.

They were all separated from the rest of the U.S. soldiers and presumably other Nigerien soldiers and three of those soldiers, other than Sergeant La David Johnson were recovered by U.S. Special Forces, who were part of the original kill or capture team, who were going to go after the high value terror target, according to one of those U.S. officials.

So, more details coming in, but exactly what went down and possibly how those special forces were tragically killed in this deadly ambush -- Ana.

CABRERA: And David, when it comes to the details of what that scene was like, paint the picture, based on this report now from the soldier, who apparently arrived on scene during the firefight?

MCKENZIE: Well, he came in just as the firefight ended or sometime after it was ending, and it was the Nigerien soldier that we spoke to who was rapidly as possible sent to the scene after word got out presumably to the ground troops here.

[11:20:06] Now he said that when he arrived on the scene, the American and the Nigerien soldiers were back to back. He said they were fighting presumably to the death. He was really amazed by their bravery and certainly said that he believed they should have had more support, but we'll only know when more detail comes out -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. David McKenzie in Niger for us, thank you for that update.

Now Republican lawmakers back here at home are just catching their breath after yesterday's razor thin passage of that budget bill that happened right as this show was getting started.

And now they have to sprint to an even more ambitious goal, their party's signature promise of delivering tax reform by the end of the year, but are they any here close to having a plan that can get the votes?

New Jersey Republican Tom McArthur, who voted against the budget had this to say, a quote, "I know and they know that there were people that voted yes only to keep the process going forward, but who disagree with the fact that we don't have a deal yet."

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is joining us now on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, lawmakers say we will get details on this new GOP tax plan next Wednesday?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. That's when the legislative text of this bill is set to be released. This vote on the budget clearly reveals that they still have not settled many of the underlying issues that Republicans have within the party right now about this bill.

You have 20 defections on the budget yesterday. That was only two votes short of potentially killing the budget. So that really gives leadership a good sense of where they are right now. Quite frankly, they just don't have the support they need.

So, as they work through these issues, and negotiations continue among the -- one of the chief issues the state and local tax deductions, a lot of Republicans from high stakes -- high tax states like New Jersey and New York want to see that potentially preserved.

Also issue over the 401(k) contributions, a lot of talk that those could be capped. The president really has been all over the map on this and inserting himself a little bit into the negotiations specifically on 401(k)s.

First tweeting that he was against it and then saying maybe something will be worked out, he will be using it as a negotiating tool and this is something that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was asked about yesterday in a press conference up here on Capitol Hill, essentially asking if it's easier if the president stayed out of the details. Here's that exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you at all concerned that this rollout next week when you detail these tough choices, that he's not going to maybe like some of them and tweet something about it?

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: He's going to be in Asia, number one. Just kidding. Kind of a joke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: A little moment of levity up there you could say, but certainly a moment of honesty I should say from the speaker indicating that he doesn't want anything to rock the boat on this, especially not the president's famous tweets that do a lot to up-end negotiations.

And they do have an incredibly ambitious schedule that they want to hold to. The bill, as we said, will be unveiled next Wednesday. That's after all these details get worked out, and then they will push forward in the House and Senate.

Leaders on both sides said they would like this to be passed by Thanksgiving. That's incredibly ambitious even if everything goes perfectly for them -- Ana.

CABRERA: Of course, having flashbacks to the whole health care debacle for Republicans. We wonder what's going to happen if this is going to be different. Sunlen Serfaty, thank you so much for that.

Still ahead here in the newsroom, we are digging into the thousands of once classified files on the JFK assassination. We have new info and there are also new questions about Lee Harvey Oswald.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:27:55]

CABRERA: So, it was supposed to be this big release, a deadline that was set decades ago. President Trump even teased a big reveal, but what we got is incomplete. The public now has access to some of President John F. Kennedy's assassination files, but President Trump ultimately agreed not to release hundreds of documents after request from national security agencies.

Yet the president says they are still coming. This morning, he tweeted JFK files are being carefully released and in the end, there will be great transparency. It is my hope to get just about everything to public. But even the new document dump is a lot of fodder for those conspiracy theorists.

Joining me now CNN's Tom Foreman and Jefferson Morley, editor of jfkfacts.org. He is the author of "The Ghost: The Secret Life of Cia Spy Master Of James Jesus Angleton," who was the CIA's counterintelligence director at the time of the Kennedy assassination.

So, Tom, I want to start with you because you've been pouring through the thousands of pages of documents that were released. One of the biggest conspiracy theories was actually addressed in this document dump whether Lee Harvey Oswald was connected to the CIA. What did you learn?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's kind of addressed. Look at this image from the document dump that says what was asked about that. During the course of this conversation, there was -- as the Warren Commission was doing its work, there was a direct question, was he working for the CIA? Is that what happened?

And yet, there was no answer. It basically gets cut off after that. Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy, which in any way shows Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent? And then it just stops there. There's no answer. So, you know, I'm telling you if you're one of the conspiracy theorists you're like there's the evidence.

CABRERA: Right.

FOREMAN: And if you're not, you're saying there's a question that doesn't tell us anything.

CABRERA: What it almost does feed that conspiracy that they're trying to cover something up when they don't provide the answer to that very specific question. Jefferson, why would that have simply cut off there? Why wouldn't the answer be included in this document release?

JEFFERSON MORLEY, EDITOR OF JFKFACTS.ORG: Because the relationship between the CIA and Lee Harvey Oswald was and is remains to this day a very sensitive subject --