Return to Transcripts main page


Train Carrying GOP Members Hits Truck; FBI Has "Grave Concerns" Over Nunes Memo. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: -- and just for anybody who's just tuning in, what you're looking at is a live picture of a train that was chartered by House and Senate Republicans to take them from Washington, D.C. Union Station to West Virginia for their annual Republican retreat. The train crashed into what appears to be a dump truck, a garbage truck in Crozet, Virginia, which is just west of Charlottesville, Virginia.

We want to go now to the White House to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, who has an update on what the president is told, how he's involved in this, and also, what his plans might be and whether they're going to change since he was supposed to attend this retreat.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Dana. President Trump was scheduled to visit the retreat tomorrow. And I'm told that is still the schedule now, but of course they're awaiting to see if the retreat goes on, if the House and Senate members will be there tomorrow. But we do have a new statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who I just spoke to moments ago about this. And I'll just read it to you, Dana.

She said, the president has been fully briefed on the situation in Virginia and is receiving regular updates. She says, there's one confirmed fatality and one serious injury. There are no serious injuries, again, repeating, there are no serious injuries among members of Congress or their staff. Senior administration officials are in regular contact with Amtrak and state and local authorities. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone that has been affected by this incident.

Again, that is a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who is making the point that yes, there is a fatality, but the White House is saying that it is not a member of Congress or any of their family members.

And Dana, as you well know, it's very common for members of Congress, their spouses, and even their families in some cases to go to this resort-like weekend, this retreat weekend. It is one of the few sort of bonding experiences, if you will, for these members of Congress to get together. So that is one of the dynamics here.

And we're also looking on social media for messages. I just saw one from Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Republican from Nebraska. He points out the House chaplain Patrick Conroy is on the scene as well. He was traveling with these members and he is helping the injured there.

So just some more detail coming out from members of Congress on the scene. We can see this tweet right here from Jeff Fortenberry. He says, "My family and I are on the train to a retreat, hit a garbage truck, jarring but everyone OK on the train. Severe injury in truck, maybe a death.

Father Conroy again, the House chaplain there with the injured. A number of members of Congress who are doctors tried to help.

So again, the eyewitnesses here in many case, Dana are Republican members of Congress, happening in realtime here. But the White House is keeping an eye on this. The president in other meetings, he's been briefed on this several times. It's still to be determined if he will travel there tomorrow. Dana?

BASH: Jeff, thank you so much. While you were talking, I got a text from a lawmaker who is on the train saying that they just made an announcement that the train is leaving in 10 minutes. The person who has been giving us a play by play and giving us really critical information, Tom Cole, I believe is still on the phone.

Congressman Cole, did you hear that announcement?

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA (via telephone): I did not. I'm in the last car, so maybe we're going car by car. But I have not heard that yet.

BASH: OK. Another aide who was also texting me from the train, probably a different car, said that he had heard, not by announcement, but from others that the plan was for the train to be taken to Charlottesville, which is not far from where you -- where this crash was in Crozet, Virginia, and that the buses would come and pick you all up.

Again, unclear where the buses will be taking you, whether to Washington or to the retreat, which of course was your destination. Any update as to how things are going to go down? Have they told you yet?

COLE (via telephone): No, I have not heard that. Again, we're sort of -- we're right by the accident. We tend to be the last probably to hear anything as it works its way down the train. So I haven't heard anything.

You know, again, I'd be supportive of whatever decision they made. Obviously, we don't have serious injuries or problems here, so you could go ahead, but if the decision was made to not do that, I'd be supportive of that as well.

It's just such a sad situation. You just always go back to, you know, we were fortunate obviously, but people on that truck certainly weren't. And they were just -- you know, that's a tough job to do anyway. They were out working hard, trying to support their families and then this happens to them. And it's, you know, it's a life- altering event where you've got a fatality and serious injury and (INAUDIBLE) apparently shaken out.

BASH: Absolutely. You were talking earlier about the fact that you had to, you know, grab on at the point of impact to make sure you didn't fall.

[12:35:04] Other people are posting, and I'm getting texts from others who are on the train that they saw people thrown from their seats.

And also that, in addition to your colleagues, the members who are also medical doctors, the House doctor is on the train and also sprung into action. And I'm guessing you witnessed some of that as well.

COLE (via telephone): I did, saw all of that. And, you know, you couldn't be prouder of all of them that immediately went out of there and, you know, tried to render assistance. And they were saying we needed to stay where we were at.

Those doctors weren't going to stay where they were at. They were absolutely determined to get out there because they could see, you know, the people that were injured lying on the ground. And they literally got there first.

And, you got to be proud of them. I mean, they put other people ahead of themselves. Some of them were here with their families and racing away to try and help the people injured in the vehicle.

So, it is like the ballpark in the sense that they all did the right thing under very difficult circumstances. But fortunately, again, none of them, none of the members, none of their families, none of their staff have been hurt. But boy, the people on the ground really have been.

BASH: And just to be clear, you said that the members who are physicians, you know, tried to get out immediately to help those who were injured, and just for securities reasons, the Capitol Police tried to stop them.

COLE: Yes, they were afraid there might be gas leakage. Not other members, actually. You know, security police (INAUDIBLE) we want you to stay in the vehicle and they just weren't going to do that.

So, they came running down the halls, or down the aisles, asking people please step back, please step back, so they could get there right away. You know, a group of four or five of them literally were actually in this last car and they got the door open and out they went. They weren't going to have any of not going and rendering assistance right away or waiting for first responders to get here.

Although, I must say, the first responders did get here very rapidly. So the local response was good. But the response from the physicians on the train and other people who just went out to help, you wanted to be careful there wasn't too big a crowd (INAUDIBLE). But the ones that could render assistance were pretty insistent on being allowed to do so. And so, very proud of them.

BASH: Well, on that note, Congressman, stand by. I want to read a tweet from Senator Bill Cassidy, who is a physician, one of those you were talking about who sprung into action. Here's what he said.

"There were three people in the truck that was straddling the track and which the train hit. One is dead, one I am told is being transported but has minor injuries, one has serious injuries. Please pray. Laura and I and multiple other physicians tended to the patients until EMTS showed up."

COLE (via telephone): Yes, it was --

BASH: Laura is his wife.

COLE (via telephone): -- pretty amazing to watch. And (INAUDIBLE) these people sometimes you just think of all members are alike, but actually all of them come here with some sort of different or unique backgrounds and obviously in this case, those with the medical training.

And, you know, Brad Wenstrup is a combat doctor for goodness sake. And All of these people have handled emergency situations. Their training and their basic humanity just takes over. And we were very lucky to have them.

BASH: And on that note, Congressman, I want to give you and our viewers a little bit more of information about how these members who are doctors helped as quickly and as well as they could. Congressman Roger Marshall's office says the congressman is helping individuals who need medical attention, including performing CPR on a train worker that his office understands was a train conductor. Marshall is a physician, he's a doctor.

And I can also say that Amtrak has said there were no reported injuries to anyone on the train, including the crew. So we're trying to clarify who exactly he is saying and his office said that he is helping.

But again, just another example. You mentioned Senator Cassidy. We talked about him and now your colleague in the House, Congressman Marshall.

COLE (via telephone): Yes, no, they all were -- you don't want to stand in the way of a doctor in an emergency. They were all very insistent. Mike Burgess, Brad Wenstrup, again, Senator Cassidy, they were all just racing to try and get there as quickly as they could. And there were others as well. (INAUDIBLE).

You know, anybody that had formal training was trying to get out to get to these people that were on the ground. We literally could see them, and you could see how severe, you know, some of the injuries were.

[12:40:03] And -- so -- again, very fortunate you have people like that in a situation like this and that they respond that way. It reflects well on them and reflects well on the institution.

BASH: No question. Congressman, stand by. We have another one of your colleagues, Congressman Lee Zeldin. We talked to you, Congressman Zeldin at the top of the hour and you gave us a, you know, firsthand account of what happened there. Now that we are almost an hour into kind of the aftermath, what are you hearing about the scene and what are you hearing about the plans for dealing with all of you, House and Senate Republicans, your aides, your family who are all currently still sitting on this train?

REP. LEE ZELDIN (R), NEW YORK (via telephone): I'm hearing that the train may be moved at some point over the course of the next few minutes. I don't know if the plan is to bring us to a local train station to get on a bus. As I mentioned when we spoke earlier, fortunately the train was able to stay on the tracks, which was the biggest thing to mitigate the impacts for those who were on it.

But that's what we're hearing as far as movement, that the train may be moving here at some point over the next few minutes.

BASH: And Congressman, do you have any sense of where you're going to go? Are you going to come back to Washington? Will the retreat be canceled? Or will you board buses and continue on to your destination in West Virginia?

ZELDIN (via telephone): I would imagine that we would be continuing to West Virginia. I haven't heard any confirmation that we were heading back to Washington, D.C. I don't know exactly what the condition of this train is or if they would move us to another train or if we would be moved over to buses.

I'm speculating when I tell you that I would imagine that we would be moving forward to West Virginia, but I can't say that for sure.

BASH: What do you think should happen? Forgive me for putting you on the spot when you're definitely dealing with a traumatic event, but are you in the camp that the show must go on, you should continue, especially given the fact that at least on the train among members it doesn't sound like there were serious injuries? Or do you think it's best to go back home?

ZELDIN (via telephone): You know, it's interesting as you ask because it really hasn't been a question, a topic that we've spoken with each other yet. So I don't know what the other members' opinions would be of that (INAUDIBLE) for others as well.

I would say that, you know, I still haven't heard of any serious injuries amongst the delegation, of course one of the biggest factor in that. When we hit the truck, clearly there was a massive problem. We hit something that we weren't supposed to.

And then fortunately, we stayed on the track. We were able to come to a stop. But being that I'm not aware of any serious injuries amongst the delegation, there may be a plan to continue forward. But, I guess we'll find out.

Again, I haven't had any conversations with any of my colleagues on that topic. All the conversations have been, you know, specifically with regards to helping those who have been hurt, making sure that the children who are on board are in good spirits, and it's also been amazing watching how the first responders reacted to it, whether it's the Capitol Police, the Amtrak personnel, the local firefighters, the local police officers.

The main concern would be to render first aid to make sure that anyone who's in need of a doctor or other help can get it. And also, there's an important process to make sure that this was a random accident. When you first hit a truck, you see the Capitol Police officers and others secure the train. I haven't heard, you know, of anyone after the first few minutes expressing that concern, but seeing how quickly they react was impressive. There was immediately a helicopter above within about, gosh, it might have been 20 seconds and there was a helicopter above our train.

BASH: Was that an initial thought? I mean, you know, in the moments after the crash, after the impact, did that go through your mind that maybe this isn't an accident?

ZELDIN (via telephone): Well, it actually went through my mind quickly because it was expressed very quickly on our car. You know, we have -- you know, right now I'm looking out the window. We have a local police officer with an m4 just patrolling right outside because we're right next to a residential area. And you do have almost every Republican member of the House and the Senate.

[12:45:01] But the concern that you might have over the first minute or two in the Capitol Police going into what they've been trained to do, to make sure there was nothing more to it, I would say it didn't seem to be as much of a concern once they got in place and a few minutes went by.

BASH: And it doesn't seem to be a concern at this point. Meaning that --

ZELDIN (via telephone): No. I mean, there is -- you know --

BASH: This was an actual accident.

ZELDIN (via telephone): Absolutely. From everything I can tell, that is -- you know, if I had to put a guess on it, I would say a 100 percent.

BASH: OK. Congressman, if you don't mind, could you just stand by? We're just going to go over to the White House. Our Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny is there with some new reporting on the president and what he is hearing about what's going on in rural Virginia.

ZELENY: Indeed, Dana. We are told that the president was in the Oval Office when this happened, when he learned about this and was briefed by the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

We're learning this through a tweet from Dan Scavino who of course is the social media adviser to the president. He manages his social media account. Let's take a look at that, if we have it. He says this, "On behalf of everyone at the White House, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved today's Virginia train accident. President Trump has been briefed on the situation by Chief of Staff General Kelly in the Oval."

So again, just putting the president in a time and place here when he was briefed on this. And again, the president, Dana, as you know, is scheduled to travel tomorrow to visit the House and Senate members at that Greenbrier Resort. He was scheduled to amplify his message from the state of the union address.

The officials here say that they are waiting to hear from the House of Representatives officials and the senators if this will continue here. So as of now, it's still on the president's schedule to go tomorrow, if it happens. But they will wait and see what develops this afternoon here.

I did just talked to one other Republican member of Congress who I was texting with. He said he was driving separately as well, saying he was hearing reports that it may be called off, but he said that is not a definitive yet. They're still all awaiting word.

So you have a lot of members just kind of in limbo, awaiting to see, even those driving separately, Dana. But we are told that a decision will be made shortly if this goes on or is called off. Dana?

BASH: Jeff, thank you so much for that reporting. Appreciate it.

And I want to go now to Mary Schiavo who was an inspector general at the Department of Transportation and has a lot of experience looking into crashes like this. Obviously, there's never been a crash much like this as Congressman Zeldin was telling us. Almost every Republican member of the House and Senate were on and are on this train that was headed from Washington, D.C. to a retreat in West Virginia and apparently hit a truck in Crozet, Virginia, just outside of Charlottesville.

At first blush, knowing the facts that we know, which is not a lot right now, and hearing the firsthand accounts, what's your sense of this?

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN TRANSPORTATION ANALYST (via telephone): Well, other than the train was full of, you know, a large number of members of Congress, this actually is a typical accident. The problem in the United States is our trains that intersect with service transportation, intersect with cars and trucks. And everyone wonders why we don't have a train system like Japan.

And Japan, for example, with the bullet train, with the Shinkansen, there is no place on the Shinkansen line where the train, and they're very high-speed trains, meet surface traffic. And so literally, every day in America, there is somewhere where a car or a truck is on the train tracks and people forget that it takes a train a mile. If a train is going 60 miles an hour and it's a typical train configuration, it takes a mile to stop. So when something is on the track and we don't have adequate barriers or people have ignored the barriers, which is a very common problem, or tried to beat the train, we have this sort of situation happening. So sadly, while the persons on the train, you know, the passengers are a little unusual, this type of an accident is not unusual.

BASH: OK. Mary Schiavo, thank you so much for that.

We are going to continue to monitor this, see what happens with this train and with all of those members who are now effectively stranded in rural Virginia. While we do that, I want to go straight to our Shimon Prokupecz who has some new reporting on FBI concerns about the Nunes memo. Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Dana. Just in the last few minutes, the FBI releasing a statement. We must keep in mind that it's rare for the FBI to comment on these kinds of issues, certainly a somewhat political issue. And let me just read to you what they said and this line here very important.

[12:50:02] "As we expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy", they say.

Now, I've been talking to officials over at the FBI, certainly some people at the Department of Justice as well, and all have raised concerns over this memo in that it leaves out important facts, important details, and would mislead people into believing certain things about how intelligence was gathered, what was done at the FISA court, how the FBI and law enforcement went about gathering some of this material.

It just does not paint a complete picture of what was going on at the time. And it's important. And I think the FBI -- having the FBI issue this statement tells you how important it is for them.

We're also told that the Department of Justice was not in full agreement with the FBI about this statement. In fact, we're told by some that the Department of Justice, that some people at the Department of Justice did not want the FBI to release this statement.

So certainly, some infighting between -- within the agency, within the FBI and the Department of Justice, but the FBI went ahead and did this today. And now we're just all waiting to see when the memo will be released.

BASH: Shimon, thank you so much for that reporting. I want to go around the table to our panel here.

I mean, look, when you first hear the FBI is saying, no, no, please don't release a memo that according to our sources very clearly makes the FBI look really bad and not very responsible with regard to one of their most important responsibilities, which is civil liberties of Americans and allowing a warrant to legally infringe on those civil liberties. So, given that, what do you make of this? ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, we've been hearing all morning about some concerns about not just -- I think there's a perception that the concern from the FBI is reputational. But there are other concerns broadly in the intelligence community about the risking of sources and methods that underlie the intelligence of this report.

So those concerns are being brought to the White House this week, and now you're seeing the FBI coming forward and saying, we just don't think that this report is particularly accurate, and they're raising the alarm. Now, a couple things are happening this morning. John Kelly sat in a local television interview that he believes that after the sort of almost pro-forma, legal, and a national security review is done, he believes that the report is going to be released. We heard that from the president last night too.

So the question now is, is the report going to be released regardless of these concerns raised by the intelligence community, by the president's own FBI and Department of Justice.

BASH: And Michael Shear, do you think that if something like this happens at the FBI, raising grave concerns in the formal way that, the FBI director Christopher Wray had to sign off on that?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, I think you can't imagine that there's any way in which a statement like this could be put out, especially in the context that we're talking about. This isn't just a sort of procedural fight or some sort of low-level thing between agencies of the government.

The president of the United States is on the precipice of releasing a memo. I mean, this is coming at a time when the White House literally just hours ago said they expect the chief of staff said he expects it to come out any moment. And the FBI still went ahead with, you know, a memo that essentially challenges the actions that they know the president is about to take.

I mean, that's remarkable. And, you know, it really heightens all of these tensions that we've all been covering this last year between this White House and the national security establishment, especially the FBI. It's just incredible.

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think it's entirely possible that both of these ideas are true, right? That this could be the FBI trying to save face or avoid something that's embarrassing to the bureau.

BASH: And it publicly puts the FBI at odds with the White House.

WARREN: That's right. But at the same time, it could also very well be true. And this is what you're hearing from Democrats on this committee, that by releasing this, this does reveal methods and sources. And this is something the intelligence community more broadly and specifically in this case the FBI's always very, very concerned about. The other element of all this is that it's not just the FBI. Again, with the director who most likely signed off, I agree with you on that, a director appointed by President Trump, but it's also the Department of Justice, which is on this matter being run by a deputy A.G. appointed by the president himself, who voiced their concerns about the release of this memo.

BASH: And let's just take a step back for a second because it's one thing for the head of the Justice Department, the head of the FBI to go and express concerns in private to the White House. It's another thing to say this publicly. This lays down the gauntlet in a whole different way.

[12:55:00] JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: And it's been building because after the president went after the FBI on Twitter, there was kind of an outcry saying, OK, well, is Christopher Wray going to defend this bureau that has been consistently maligned without any kind of response by the president of the United States. I mean, that in and of itself so the fact, to your point, that they decided to release this, it is a published pushback and perhaps a way for Christopher Wray signaling that, you know, I'm not going to take this lying down anymore.

SHEAR: And what you said about the Justice Department. Either the Justice Department is in line with the FBI, which is really remarkable given that the Justice Department is run by, you know, the president's own --

BASH: Trump appointee, right.

SHEAR: -- Trump's appointee. Or the Justice Department didn't want the FBI to do this, but they failed to stop them, which is a really remarkable moment too since the FBI is part of the Justice Department. So it's really remarkable that, either way, there's some real tension there.

PHILLIP: And Dana, we should keep in mind that the process here -- President Trump can say definitively, yes, I want this released, but he can also do nothing, which will also allow the report to be released. He needs to -- if this is the not going to be released, he would have to say, no, for national security reasons, we're going to hold this back.

And so there are a number of choices in front of him here. And now I think this really ups the pressure for the president with his own intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies saying there are real problems, there are real security threats here to block it, not just to do nothing.

BASH: And, you know, as you were talking, I was just kind of looking down to see if there's anything that sticks out specifically about the FBI's statement. So let's actually read it once again for you all and for our viewers. Here's what it says.

"With regard to the House Intelligence Committee's memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

Translation, the Republicans cherry picked here, guys. And what you're going to release is not the real story of all that happened.

WARREN: But this is the conundrum that they find themselves in, which is that they clearly view that releasing the whole story might damage, again, these methods and sources that the FBI wants to protect in order to do the work that they do. So I think that they're sort of running up against a problem here. It very well may be true, and I think it is true that Devin Nunes cherry picked information here. But they're kind of at a loss unless they want to, I think, reveal more than they're willing to.

BASH: Yes, and listen, not to sound like, you know, a Pollyanna, but this is the very reason these committees are traditionally bipartisan, that you don't have this breakdown that we have right now. Where according to a member I talked to, who has read both memos, both the Republican one that the FBI doesn't want released and the new Democratic one, that they actually remarkably talk directly past each other. That they don't directly address the same issues.

They talk past each other, which is not the job of Congress with regard to oversight. It's to do it in a way that is actually impactful not political.

KUCINICH: It's again, it points to the fact that the Mueller probe is -- you could say that this memo seeks to undermine. It's really the only serious investigation in town anymore because Congress has become unable to get out of their partisan --

BASH: And the questions is, despite what House Speaker Paul Ryan says, which is this memo talking about big mistakes at the genesis of the Russia investigation is very different from the Mueller investigation, which he sees as credible. If this is released, is that really the way it's going to be seen?

PHILLIP: And overlaying all of this is a president who seems very much inclined to release the memo, having not even read it or seen it. It really suggests that the president is very deeply interested in the objective of this memo, which is to undermine the Russia probe.

BASH: Undermine the Russia probe and perhaps some personnel he's not so thrilled with in the FBI and in the Justice Department because my understanding is it name names, this memo.

SHEAR: Well -- and look, part of what he has said when he put Christopher Wray in there at the -- to head the FBI was that he was going to take himself, meaning the president, out of it and let Chris Wray deal with those personnel issues. But clearly he's not doing that because we've seen him on Twitter and everything else.

BASH: All right. Everybody, thank you so much for that abbreviated political segment. We are still monitoring of course what happened to House and Senate Republicans and the train on the way to West Virginia.

Thank you for joining us on the INSIDE POLITICS. Jim Sciutto is in for Wolf Blitzer, and he's picking up our coverage right now.