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AT THIS HOUR

Trump To GOP Lawmaker: "100 Percent" Will Release Nunes Memo; Mueller To Interview Former Trump Official Mark Corallo; Mueller Gets Documents About Sessions' Offer To Resign; WAPO: Deputy AG FBI Chief Caution White House About Memo Release; Critics Call President's Address "Divisive"; Quigley Pressed Nunes On Whether White House Helped Draft Memo. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't understand the premise of the question.

HARLOW: Thank you all for joining us. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. "AT THIS HOUR" starts now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. President Trump calling for unity in his state of the union address and declaring that we're living in a new American moment. The question this morning is does that moment include the public release of a controversial and classified GOP memo alleging FBI abuses?

A memo that has stoked disunity not just among Democrats and Republicans but even within the Trump administration. The president only has a few days to decide whether to make this public. He didn't mention this four-page memo in his 80-minute speech last night, but he did say this on his way out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's release the memo.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Don't worry (inaudible) 100 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Let's go live now to CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. So, Kaitlan, what are you hearing about when this memo could be released?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, that really depends on who you ask at the White House this morning because the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was on CNN this morning, and she said that she has not seen the memo and a final decision has not been made on whether or not they are going to release it.

But then the chief of staff, John Kelly, just minutes ago gave essentially what is the polar opposite of that answer. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: As far as the memo goes, the memo came over. We've got our folks in the -- our national security lawyers in the White House that work for me and work for the president. They're slicing and dicing it, looking at it so we know what it means and understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see it?

KELLY: I did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?

KELLY: It will be released pretty quick I think. The whole world can see it.

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

KELLY: Again, I'll let all the experts decide that when we -- when it's released. This president, again, it's so unique that he wants everything out, so the American people can make up their own minds and if there's people to be held accountable, then so be it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Now regardless of what staffers say, Brianna, we heard from the president himself last night when he said 100 percent he wants this memo released. Now the question is, has the president seen this memo because as of the state of the union address he had not laid eyes on it and we know that after the state of the union he came back to the White House, did not go into the west wing.

Instead went the residence and was making calls to see what that reviews of his speech were. Now we know that aides have advised to wait a few days before releasing it in order to seem like he is giving due weight to the Justice Department's concerns over releasing this very controversial memo.

And the president also has five days to make a decision, but those closest to him, Brianna, just don't see how he waits that long before he releases this memo.

KEILAR: Just may not be able to wait. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

This morning, we learned that the special counsel wants to interview a former spokesman for the president's legal team. He wants to know more about Jeff Sessions' offer to resign as attorney general.

CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, has the details on this. What are you hearing, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Brianna. So, the interview of the former spokesperson for the legal team, this was the initial legal team that worked for the Trump lawyers when the special counsel was first appointed, Mark Corallo, he was the spokesperson.

We're now being told that he intends to meet with Mueller in the coming weeks. He is important because he perhaps may have information surrounding that Air Force One meeting that involved some of the president's aides where they were figuring out how to respond, "New York Times" report about the Russians, a Russian lawyer specifically meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner during the campaign.

A statement was crafted. Mueller, the special counsel, has been looking into that meeting on Air Force One, how the decision came to give that statement and so he's one of the people who has some knowledge of that meeting and we're now told he's expected to appear before Mueller in the next two weeks.

Now as to Jeff Sessions, what we're told is as part of his interview with the special counsel, the Department of Justice turned over documents relating to his resignation letter. He had written a resignation letter intending to resign.

The president at the time said no, but clearly, he's been in the president's fire -- sort of under fire by the president and all of this has certainly come up at the interview with the special counsel. So, no doubt those documents had to be turned over and now Mueller is reviewing them.

KEILAR: And Shimon, on Monday, the FBI director, Chris Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein talked to the chief of staff at the White House, John Kelly, about this Nunes memo. What did they say to him?

[11:05:07] PROKUPECZ: Right. So, this is, you know -- some of this is being reported in "The Washington Post." There are reporting that the people that have been briefed on this meeting raised issues, Rosenstein in particular, the deputy attorney general was there with the FBI Director Christopher Wray.

They raised issues. They have real concerns with this memo. I have spoken to people, several people at the FBI, who have raised this issue. The issue here is that this memo is not going to accurately portray exactly what the FBI was doing, the Department of Justice in the gathering of intelligence.

When FISAs are brought before the FISA Court, when FBI agents, when the Department of Justice seeks FISAs, there's a whole process that takes place. It's their concern that that entire process and the intelligence that was used to build out this FISA application will not be accurately explained in this memo.

KEILAR: Shimon, thank you so much for that report. I want to bring in my panel to discuss this more. We have Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and former aide to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department, Margaret Talev is with us, a CNN political analyst and senior White House correspondent for "Bloomberg News," and CNN national security analyst, Shawn Turner with us as well. Thank you, guys, for joining me. So, Shawn, I wonder what you make of this conversation that was had with Chris Wray and with Rod Rosenstein who is the DOJ official in charge of overseeing Robert Mueller and the special counsel pleading with the chief of staff not to release this.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think that what Rod Rosenstein and what others in the national security space understand is that the most important question that the president has to ask himself and perhaps someday soon herself when releasing information like this is it in the best interest of U.S. national security.

And so, I think that as they ask themselves these questions about this and as we hear that the president may be planning to release this memo as he said left night even prior to seeing them or is whether or not releasing this memo actually does serve the purpose, a purpose that's beyond politics, a purpose beyond popularity or beyond promises that he made.

KEILAR: They clearly think they don't think its met that threshold. Is that your impression?

TURNER: They don't think it's met that threshold and I think it's something that the president needs to take a step back and look at.

KEILAR: Shawn, mentioned this, Margaret, that the president made that comment last night 100 percent when talking about releasing the Nunes memo before having read it. I mean, the White House is sort of at least it appears and perhaps it was Kabuki theater said, you know, they're going about the right channels. They're doing this the right way and yet the president hadn't read that when he said that.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No. And Chief of Staff Kelly's comments on Fox News has certainly seemed to kind of bolster the president's off the cuff remarks, the idea that this memo would be released pretty quickly.

My colleagues at "Bloomberg" also have reported, are reporting that Chris Wray did explicitly express concerns both about factual inaccuracies in that memo and about it casting overall a misleading portrayal of the way the agency operated, and the way that investigation has operated.

KEILAR: Backing up what Democrats on the Intel Committee who have read the memo are alleging.

TALEV: No one is going to accuse Chris Wray of being a Democrat and so, and Wray is in a unique position that nobody else at the FBI is in right now. He's in a position that once upon a time Rod Rosenstein was in for like a week or two several months ago, that Mueller may initially have been in but now there have been efforts to weaken him. Wray is in a unique position to kind of draw a line with the president privately and publicly about what he thinks is acceptable.

KEILAR: What does the White House, Margaret, want out of this?

TALEV: Well, to some extent they've gotten what they wanted out of it, which is to muddy the water and to raise questions that are kind of shrouded in this notion of classified material, to raise questions about whether kind of at its core there is something wrong about the probe and the FISA process that has followed in all these months.

KEILAR: Michael, I'm going to be talking to House Intel Committee member here in just a moment, Mike Quigley. He apparently asked Nunes what has become a key question. Did the White House have involvement in the drafting of this memo? This was in a committee meeting. He's saying that the answer was unclear, that Nunes did not answer negatively. What would it mean if the White House were involved in the drafting of this memo?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, take one step back which is why is Devin Nunes theoretically recused from the Russia investigation? Because he went up to the White House --

KEILAR: Well, he was a Trump transition official and then this that you're about to tell us.

ZELDIN: And then he went to the White House, he read documents before he even went back and briefed the Intel Committee he went to the White House and gave them a heads up about what all this is about. That's politics.

KEILAR: And then he went to the press.

ZELDIN: That's politics in its most raw form. If what we're finding out now is that process has been repeated with the drafting of this memo.

[11:10:12] And make no mistake about it, Brianna, this memo is about the Steele dossier and efforts to undermine its credibility because the Steele dossier makes allegations with respect to President Trump and his ecosystem and their financial ties to Russia.

There's something there that the president is afraid of and that's what this is about. This is not about transparency or letting the world know about improprieties in the FISA court. This is about the Steele dossier.

And the politics of it are made more transparent when Nunes and the president, if that's what the president's staff is drafting in the same way they drafted the Air Force One memo around the June 9th meeting. They're concocting a story that they want to put out there which causes one to wonder about its veracity.

TURNER: Brianna, I think to be clear one thing that needs to be said, under no circumstance would the FISA Court ever grant a warrant based solely on information in the Steele dossier. I think Michael would agree with that.

We've said before that there was information in the Steele dossier that had already been corroborated by the intelligence community and it certainly would not be beyond the realm of possibility that when the FBI went to the FISA Court that they made the point to say this is information that we not only received through intelligence streams but that we also found in this dossier.

And to that point they would use it. But for the information that's not corroborated it would not be relevant.

KEILAR: While some of the dossier is not corroborated, Margaret, some of it is. I mean, especially the overarching claims in the dossier.

TALEV: There are, of course, some installations, details in there that have become kind of --

KEILAR: We don't report because they're not confirmed.

TALEV: But of course, that's right and then the FBI also is in this very difficult position of that being in any position to release all of the classified materials so as to kind of, you know, exonerate their greater thinking. That's the sort of political box that Republicans in Congress and to some extent this White House are now putting their own FBI (inaudible).

KEILAR: Margaret, thank you so much. Michael, really appreciate it. Shawn, so glad to have you with us.

Coming up, did Devin Nunes coordinate with the White House in crafting this controversial memo? We just asked that question. Is it going to be answered? Because a Democrat on the House Intel Committee asked Nunes that question. He's going to join me in a moment to talk about what Nunes said.

Plus, the White House said the president's first state of the union address would be unifying and bipartisan. So why did he bash Obamacare, paint immigrants as criminals and take a veiled shot at NFL protesters? We will discuss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:01]

KEILAR: The White House billed it as a moment of bipartisanship and unity but was it? President Trump in his first state of the union address calling on lawmakers to join him in rebuilding the nation's infrastructure and overhauling immigration. But he also made some partisan jabs about immigrants and Obamacare. The president also taking a not so subtle shot at NFL players.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Preston's reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us of why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Here with me now to discuss, we have CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cilizza. We also have CNN political commentator and former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and Jason Miller, former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign.

So, Jason, I want to start with that moment that we saw. We saw things like President Trump recognizing a young boy who had done work on behalf of military families who have lost a loved one. And then at the sort of the same breath he takes a swipe at protesting professional football players. Is that a unifying gesture?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think overall the speech definitely was unifying and I know obviously as a Trump supporter I have one opinion and the good senator is someone who's not a Trump supporter might have a different opinion. But when you look at the polling numbers that came out after the speech last night, of the people who were watching the speech, 80 percent thought that it was unifying in tone. I think when we talk about --

KEILAR: But what did you think?

MILLER: I loved it. I thought it was --

KEILAR: You thought it was unifying?

MILLER: Absolutely. I thought the human-interest story --

KEILAR: Couldn't he have gone without the NFL player thing?

MILLER: No, but I think that's very important because he's talking about being proud of our country, leading from the front again, and I think respecting the national anthem is part of that. I think there are a couple other numbers that are really important here.

There's a big divide right now between Democratic leadership in Washington and Democrats around the country. Case in point, I think the most troubling number for Democrats, it's not the fact that 97 percent of Republicans watching liked it or that 72 percent of independents who were watching it liked it.

It was the fact that 43 percent of the Democrats, who were watching the president's speech last night liked it. I think that's a real concern for the Democrat leadership that was in attendance that was refusing to stand on such basic things as immigration reform, and fighting opioids, and some of these absolute basic things and Democrats around the country said I like what this guy is saying.

KEILAR: Nina, what did you think?

NINA TURNER (D), FORMER OHIO STATE SENATOR: He threw shade at Colin Kaepernick and the president forgot that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. protested the hypocrisy of this country.

You know, Mohammad Ali dissented and protested the hypocrisy of this country, to make it a more perfect union. So, I don't think he had -- the speech overall for what it was a decent speech. I don't agree with a lot of positions that the president pushed, but as state of the unions go, it was a decent speech. [11:20:08] But he threw shade at Colin Kaepernick and the NFL players, who were protesting against police brutality and injustices within the justice system, and he threw shade at the DREAMers and there was really no reason to really do that.

The president is going to do what he does. The bottom line is that Democrats have to get clear on the direction that they're going into in 2018.

MILLER: That's a great point.

KEILAR: That's a very interesting point.

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, look, we rightly focus on President Trump's state of the union address. It's the big moment of the night. But it is worth noting that in addition to Joe Kennedy III, there were a number of other Democrats sort of fighting for that limelight.

Joe Kennedy gave the official Democratic response, but you had other folks giving responses too. I do think in a lot of ways Donald Trump is such an oxygen eater in any political environment that some of the story lines, which would be big deals with a less high profile, less actively tweeting president get overlooked.

The reality is there is a fight coming for sort of where does -- we saw it in part in 2016 with Hillary Clinton versus Bernie Sanders, but the cake was baked. The cake won't be baked in 2020. You'll have Biden on one side I think and others, but Biden, and on the other side you'll have Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker, other people.

KEILAR: Even last night you looked at Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and you saw a difference of opinion on sort of --

TURNER: I mean, we're divided when we are talking about the state of the union, but let's talk about the state of the streets. People really want to be listened to and not necessarily talked to but listened to. That is why, you know, take over Tennessee, I've been to 12 different states in the last quarter to really get eyeball to eyeball with the people, going to Hawaii.

I was just in New York talking to folks. I was just in Salisbury, Maryland talking to a gentleman and I asked him what is your top concern? He said the economy and jobs. So, the Democratic -- President Trump is going to do what he does. But the Democratic Party has to decide what are we standing for, what are we fighting for, and we may win in the short run, but what about longevity.

CILIZZA: In truth, in 2018, if midterm elections are indicative, past midterms are indicative of future, it may be enough to just be in a lot of these districts, well, I'm not in the party Donald Trump is in. A lot of swing seats out there. The problem is that worked in 2010 for Republicans. It worked in 2014 for Republicans. In 2020, you have to stand for something. MILLER: That's the thing as we talk go going into 2018 to Chris and what the senator are both saying is the fact that Democratic Party really is divided. You saw it with the Democratic leadership. They don't have a clear message coming out.

When you look at how good these economic numbers are, 4.1 percent unemployment, lowest black unemployment level in the U.S. in our nation's history -- but this makes it very tough for there to be some kind of rallying cry against the president when the economy is doing so well.

KEILAR: Does it or does it give something for someone to seize on --

MILLER: Ultimately, the biggest thing, I heard the president say this in person, but last night's speech for as important as it was, the biggest thing is tomorrow when people start seeing those tax cuts actually impact their paychecks, get paycheck increases, that's a real positive impact.

TURNER: I hear you though, but we know that those are temporary for the everyday working people in this country and the 1 percent are getting the lion share of --

KEILAR: We are out of time. We're going to have to leave it there. We're going to have a raging commercial break. Chris Cilizza, Senator Nina Turner, thank you so much. Jason Miller, thank you.

Coming up, as we await the president's decision on whether he'll release this controversial memo on abuses at the FBI, there's another big question. Did anyone at the White House play a role in writing the memo? A fellow member of the House Intel Committee asked Chairman Nunes just that. Congressman Mike Quigley will join me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:17]

KEILAR: It is all about the memo this morning. President Trump released that highly controversial four-page document compiled by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that alleges bias at the FBI.

There's new questions this morning about Nunes and whether there has been any coordination with the White House on this. You'll recall that he was on the Trump transition team and he has been criticized for previous interactions with the white house.

I'm joined now by Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee. Sir, thanks for joining us.

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Glad to be here. Good morning.

KEILAR: Good morning. So, you raised a question on Monday. What exactly did you ask Chairman Nunes about whether he worked on the White House with this memo and how exactly did he respond to you? QUIGLEY: Yes, I was beginning to think as this discussion began about the chairman's early midnight ride to the White House where he obtained information about alleged malfeasance by the Obama administration and returned it to the White House.

This came off as a charade. Why not ask him the same questions about this memo? So, I asked the chairman, did he work with and I asked all the preliminaries, coordinate, discuss and he said not to my knowledge. I asked him did your staff and then he became quite agitated and said I'm not answering that.

KEILAR: So, he said not to my knowledge and then when you brought him the question to his staff, he said I'm not answering that.

QUIGLEY: You know, I'll be candid with you. I don't -- I think I took him off guard, with all due respect, if that's possible at this point in time. I think he was rattled. I'm not sure he was answering the first questions candidly, and I think it was brought home when I specifically mentioned staff.