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Trump in Showdown with FBI Director Over Nunes Memo; FBI Agent Who Mocked Trump Co-Wrote Draft Reopening Clinton E-mail Probe; Reports: Trump Asked Deputy A.G. if He was 'On My Team'; Porn Star's Latest Denial of Alleged Affair with Trump. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. FBI showdown. The FBI director clashes with the man who hired him, President Trump, by issuing a rare public warning about a House Republican memo alleging FBI abuses. The FBI says it has grave concerns about the accuracy of that memo, which the president has vowed to release.

[17:00:32] "My team." Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein asked the president for help in resisting the House intel chairman, the man behind that memo. But instead, the president asked Rosenstein if he's on his team. Is this another loyalty request?

Train wreck. One person is dead after a train carrying Republican members of Congress to a retreat hits a truck in rural Virginia. What caused the fatal collision?

And Stormy denial. New questions about a porn star's latest denial of a decade-old sexual relationship with Donald Trump. A written statement denies both the alleged affair and reports of hush money payoff. But did Stormy Daniels sign that statement?

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Brianna Keilar. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: And breaking news, we are tracking major new developments that may weigh heavily in the special counsel's Russia investigation, raising new questions about a possible obstruction of justice.

In a stunning and rare public statement, the FBI says it has grave concerns about the accuracy of a memo put out by House intel Republicans alleging FBI abuses. The president's hand-picked -- hand- picked FBI director now locked in a showdown with the White House, joining with Justice Department officials and urging against the release of that memo.

And we are learning Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who supervises the special counsel, went to the White House looking for the president's help in resisting demands from House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes, but instead he got what sounds like another disturbing loyalty request from the president. Our correspondents are standing by with full coverage of these

breaking stories. We begin now with CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it is a showdown that appears to be on. President Trump appears to be poised to disregard the pleas of the FBI and release a controversial House Republican memo that alleges abuses in the Russia investigation, despite the fact that the bureau says it has grave concerns about the memo's accuracy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a clash between the White House and the FBI. President Trump was in no mood to take questions about the memo from House Republicans that accuses federal authorities of mishandling the Russia probe. A memo the FBI wants kept under wraps.

(on camera): Mr. President, any response to the FBI saying in that statement that the Nunes memo should not be released? Mr. President, any response to the FBI?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. We're leaving.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In a rare public statement that puts the bureau at odds with the White House, the FBI warns, "We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy." The statement carries serious political weight, as the bureau is now led by Mr. Trump's hand-picked FBI director, Chris Wray.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people...

ACOSTA: Still at the State of the Union the president assured one GOP lawmaker, the memo will be released.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's release the memo.

TRUMP: Oh, yes. Don't worry. It's 100 percent. Can you imagine?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It is good to see...

ACOSTA: Even though his own press secretary, Sarah Sanders, conceded on CNN, Mr. Trump hasn't even read it last night.

CUOMO: Has the president seen the memo yet?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not that I'm aware of. I know he hadn't as of last night, prior to and immediately after the State of the Union.

ACOSTA: While Sanders waffled on it, White House chief of staff John Kelly was much more clear, apparently brushing off concerns, not only from Wray but from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Both Wray and Rosenstein tried to change Kelly's mind earlier this week.

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it.

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS: Do you think that -- what changes the next day after? Do you think things change the next day after, do you think?

KELLY: Again, I'll let the -- I'll let all the experts decide that when -- when it's released. But this president, again, it's so unique, Brian, 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.

ACOSTA: Democrats say the man behind the memo, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, would not reveal whether his staff had worked with the White House on the memo.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: I asked the chairman, did he work with, and I asked all the preliminaries, you know, coordinate, discuss, and he said, "Not to my knowledge." And I asked him, "Did your staff?" And then he became quite agitated.

ACOSTA: Nunes released a statement defending the memo saying, "Having stonewalled Congress's demands for information for nearly a year, it's no surprise to see the FBI and the Department of Justice issue spurious objections to allowing the American people to see information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies."

[17:05:10] The ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee argues releasing the memo will only encourage the White House to interfere with the Russia investigation.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The danger in all this, besides the obvious one, of politicizing the intelligence process, is that it sends a message to the White House that he can fire Rod Rosenstein or he can fire Bob Mueller, and there are GOP members who are so vested in his presidency that they will roll over. And that -- that will cause a constitutional crisis if that's the message he takes from this.

ACOSTA: Russia may be on the president's mind, but it was barely in the State of the Union speech, earning only a brief mention in the address.

TRUMP: As we rebuild America's strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad. Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: In a sign the White House knows it has been all over the place on the fate of this memo, officials are clamping down on what the president will ultimately decide. Mr. Trump met behind closed doors with local news reporters who came to the White House from around the country to talk about the State of the Union speech. But that meeting was kept off the record. The president may be able to continue to avoid these questions, as he's scheduled to head to the GOP retreat in West Virginia tomorrow -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. CNN's Jim Acosta, thank you so much for that.

I want to bring in our national security team now. We have Jake Tapper. I want to start with you. You know, you're looking at this showdown with the FBI director. Why is this so significant? Because it's pretty eye-popping.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's significant, because it has to do with, in general, President Trump's respect for the law enforcement community and institutions. This is a president who came to Washington, for better or worse, to disrupt, to shake things up, but a lot of that has manifested itself in behavior that has really upset a lot of people with a high regard for certain checks and balances and separations.

It's tough to imagine a previous president overruling an FBI director, especially about something like this, where the FBI director is saying this memo is full of falsehoods. They're falsehoods by omission. And you know, it also just fits in with a pattern. Whether it is his firing the FBI director Comey, or I mean, how long do we have to go through -- go through the list?

KEILAR: You have approximately 20 more seconds.

TAPPER: I mean, then-FBI Director Andrew McCabe about who did he vote for. The threats to the job of Mueller, the threats to the job of Rosenstein, the threats to the job of Jeff Sessions and on and on.

There's a chart. I wasn't even planning on this. And so it fits. It's of a piece. It's of a piece.

KEILAR: And the other thing, Jim Sciutto, is we've known there's this ongoing fight. You know, we've reported that there's been this tension. But this is very different in the way that this has come out publicly.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Take out Democrat versus Republican on this, right? The traditional dividing line in this town, more so today than perhaps ever before. And there are Democrats and Republicans on either side of this memo issue.

This is agencies versus the president on this, right? Today you hear from the FBI, headed by an appointee of the president, Christopher Wray, saying that this memo is fundamentally inaccurate.

Last week you had the Department of Justice, headed by an attorney general, appointed by the president, which in a letter to Devin Nunes said that it is unaware of any abuse of FISA surveillance warrants. OK? The core of what these memos allege, which is abuse, repeated abuse, it seems, by the FBI. That's the charge. And then the intelligence agencies, to current and senior officials in the intelligence agencies, who say that by releasing this memo, you are exposing what is, by design, a classified process to choose and surveil foreign and domestic targets for national security reasons.

So you have three categories of agencies -- the FBI, DOJ and the intelligence agency -- saying to the president, "This is wrong" and to the GOP leadership, frankly, which backs releasing this memo. "This is wrong. It's inaccurate. It's dangerous, and its very foundation is not based on fact." That's the essential divide here, and that's a remarkable divide to have break out into the public.

TAPPER: And just one other point on this. Look, obviously, we don't know. We haven't seen the memo. We don't know the facts of this. But obviously, if somebody's civil liberties were violated, that is something that should forward; that is something that should come out. That is also something that historically, the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees come forward together and say, "These are the agreed-upon facts that we agree with. This needs to happen. This needs to change."

But that's not how this process has happened. Nunes has done this in a very Republican way, with Schiff and the Democrats not involved. When Senator Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has asked to see this memo, they wouldn't share it with him, although his committee has been run in a very bipartisan way.

KEILAR: Much more.

[17:10:07] TAPPER: So there's a way to do this. I mean, I don't think we should just ignore the idea that maybe somebody's civil liberties were violated. I don't think anybody's proposing that we do. But the way that it's going about is not the way it's done.

KEILAR: So I do want to get to...

SCIUTTO: We have seen this show before, right, with Devin Nunes with the allegations about unmasking. And again, done in conjunction with the White House. And by the way, he was reported to the Ethics Committee for possibly releasing classified information during that process.

TAPPER: He was cleared. He was cleared.

KEILAR: He was cleared. I do want to get to a CNN exclusive, because this is some breaking news we have. I want to bring in Evan Perez and Pamela Brown to talk about this. It seems like there has been another request for loyalty from the president, Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Brianna, what happened was the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, went to the White House in December, seeking President Donald Trump's help to block document demands from the House intelligence chairman, Devin Nunes.

But sources familiar with the meeting tell us that the president had other things on his mind ahead of Rosenstein's upcoming testimony before the 2House committee. The president asked Rosenstein where he thought the investigation of links between Russians and his campaign was headed, and he went on to ask whether Rosenstein was, quote, "on my team."

As a reminder, Rosenstein oversees the special counsel, Robert Mueller's, Russia investigation and this is only the latest episode to come to light, portraying a president who asks questions that sometimes cross a line that presidents have traditionally tried to avoid when dealing with the Justice Department.

Now, this exchange could raise further questions about whether Trump was seeking to interfere with the Mueller investigation, was just looking into potential illegal coordination by the Trump campaign and obstruction of justice by the White House, Brianna.

KEILAR: It seems a little deja vu, Pamela, because we -- we've heard about former FBI Director James Comey, when he testified that President Trump had asked him for a loyalty pledge. Do we have a sense of if Rosenstein thought this was the same thing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're told by sources familiar with this meeting, Brianna, that Rosenstein appeared surprised by the president's questions in the Oval Office. He didn't provide any details of the direction of the Russia investigation. And he responded awkwardly to the president's team request saying, quote, "Of course, Mr. President, I'm on your team. We're all on your team."

Now at the December hearing, shortly after that White House meeting, Rosenstein was asked about loyalty pledges, and here's what he said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Is it ever appropriate for the president of the United States to demand the Department of Justice full or FBI director take a loyalty pledge?

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't have an opinion about that, Congressman. Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge, other than the oath of office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: So at the hearing, Rosenstein also told lawmakers, quote, "As long as you are following your oath of office, you can also be faithful to the administration." The Justice Department declined to comment, and the White House has not gotten back to us with a comment, Brianna.

KEILAR: And Evan, this reporting of yours shows that the presidency particularly focused on that December hearing. Why?

PEREZ: That -- that's right. The fact is that the president brought up the upcoming hearing during the White House meeting. One source told us that -- that Trump went so far as to suggest questions to members of Congress that they could ask Rosenstein.

One line of inquiry Trump proposed that lawmakers asked about was whether Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election because Mueller was not chosen as the FBI director.

Now, CNN has previously reported that Trump has been venting to his aides about Rosenstein in recent weeks and even raised the possibility of firing him. It does not, you know, appear that the questions, by the way, that he asked congressmen to ask of Rosenstein were ever actually asked in the hearing.

KEILAR: Jake, we know that loyalty is so important to this president.

TAPPER: Yes.

KEILAR: But there's a difference between loyalty being important, which I think we've seen with other politicians, and asking for a pledge of loyalty. It seems to be something that we're seeing over and over.

TAPPER: Yes. Well, I would -- I would argue that this was specifically a pledge of loyalty. There does seem to be a difference in scale between what he allegedly asked Comey for -- "I need you to be loyal to me" -- as opposed to what he asked Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director at the time -- "Who did you vote for?" -- and what he's alleged to have said here to Rosenstein in terms of the specifics of what he's saying. Although it's certainly all of a piece, of he really values loyalty; he wants to know that people are on his team.

I mean, it goes without saying that, if you're talking about an investigation into the president's campaign, asking where it's going is inappropriate and asking, "Are you on my team?" is very different than if President Trump had said, "Well, I want to you get to the bottom of whatever happened so we make sure it never happens again." It seems to suggest quite the opposite effect.

KEILAR: And if you're looking, Jim, at an investigation into obstruction of justice, would this meet the standard for a data point in that, or is this just inappropriate?

SCIUTTO: I defer to the lawyers. But you and I are asking lawyers this very question frequently on the air.

[17:15:07] We know that you look at a pattern of behavior. Right? Investigators might do that. They piece together various requests for loyalty, firing of say, your FBI director. But intent is key. And that's -- that's a difficult thing to prove from a legal standpoint.

Of course, there's another question, which is a political question. If Mueller would have come out with a report that alleged a pattern of behavior here that was unacceptable, does Congress -- Congress has other means, of course, of pursuing wrongdoing, if it sees that there's wrongdoing.

PEREZ: Right. And I think we don't know whether or not this has been brought up to Mueller. I mean, we know, according to that testimony from Rod Rosenstein at that hearing, he said that they speak frequently about the investigation. And so certainly, if that -- and he hasn't told Mueller about it? I think by now, perhaps he's going to have to tell him, and it's going to be part of, again, what Jim was talking about, about a pattern that we've seen emerge with the president.

BROWN: And it's clear that this is a president who believes, "Look, I put these people there. I put Jeff Sessions there. I put Rod Rosenstein there. I appointed him." You know, and there are certain protocols in place.

TAPPER: Right.

BROWN: Traditionally, there is supposed to be independence between the Justice Department and the White House. But clearly, the president takes it personally when he feels like the people he put in their position go against what he wants. I mean, we saw it just recently, when DOJ put out the statement saying that they basically didn't want the Nunes memo to come out, that it could be harmful from Steven Boyd.

My reporting is that the president was fuming about this on board Air Force One on his way to Davos; had his chief of staff call Jeff Sessions to relay the displeasure that the president had. Clearly, to him, he views it as, you know, that they're going against him, and he views it as something that does...

PEREZ: And it does add to the concern, by the way. I think everybody at the Justice Department is wondering whether or not, when is the day that the president will have enough and perhaps whether Rosenstein gets to keep his job? I mean, it's a thing that keeps coming up. And it's a very important thing for us to consider, because we're talking about someone who's overseeing the investigation into the president's campaign.

KEILAR: And...

TAPPER: I just want to say one thing. it is impossible to imagine a Democratic president doing this and Republicans on Capitol Hill being as quiet as they are. And this is an issue that doesn't have anything to do with partisan politics. It has to do with whether or not you accept that a president is going to try to insert himself into an investigation. There has been long, traditionally and also just constitutionally, in a way, that there's a separation between the Justice Department. It's supposed to have an independence.

Yes, the president appoints the attorney general. But there's supposed to be an independence when it comes to investigations -- investigations.

The fact that Republicans are -- on Capitol Hill are tolerating this just boggles the mind. They are so quiet when they know, most of them, know better. They know that this is wrong.

SCIUTTO: And remember the reaction to the Loretta Lynch/Bill Clinton tarmac meeting, right? During the midst of that investigation. The former president.

TAPPER: Which was entirely...

KEILAR: Double standards.

TAPPER: It was entirely fishy.

SCIUTTO: Yes, absolutely.

TAPPER: Entirely fishy. And Republicans were right to criticize it.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

TAPPER: And they're AWOL today.

KEILAR: Jake, Jim, Evan, Pamela, thank you so much to all of you.

Next, we do have more breaking news. In a CNN exclusive, we're learning that an FBI agent demoted for mocking Donald Trump actually played a key role in restarting the probe into Hillary Clinton's e- mails right before the election.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:22:31] KEILAR: More breaking news right now, a CNN exclusive. It concerns an FBI agent who was demoted for sending anti-Trump texts, the same agent who's accused by Republicans of being biased in favor of Hillary Clinton

Well, now it turns out that agent actually was instrumental in reopening the Clinton e-mail investigation right before the 2016 election, which many people in her corner say cost her the election.

I want to turn now to CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. What are you learning, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Bianna. E-mails obtained by CNN show the FBI agent, Peter Strzok, actually played a key role in the FBI decision that upended the Clinton campaign just days before the elections. And that was the letter to Congress by then-FBI Director James Comey announcing the agency was investigating newly-discovered Clinton e-mails.

Now, in October 27, 2016, Strzok co-wrote an e-mail with one of his colleagues that actually was the first draft that formed the basis of the Comey letter that was sent to Congress the next day.

Now separately, a source familiar with Strzok's thinking said he also supported reopening the Clinton investigation once those e-mails surfaced on the laptop of that disgraced former congressman, Anthony Weiner.

Now this is significant, because Strzok has come under enormous criticism from Republicans who have seized on his text messages with FBI attorney Lisa Page, with whom he was having an extramarital affair. Those had some anti-Trump messages in those text messages. And Trump himself even suggested they were committing treason. But these new documents show that he was actually involved in the Comey letter, in an effort that Clinton herself blamed for costing her the election, Brianna.

KEILAR: And you've also learned that they were not sure that Comey should have gone public.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. In the text messages that we have reviewed, they were actually grappling with the fallout of making the letter public. Two sources who reviewed the text messages between Strzok and Page said they exchange messages on November 6, when Page said she didn't know if they should issue a public statement. Strzok, we are told, agreed with that.

It appeared to be a reference to that other statement that Comey issued on November 6, when he announced that there was nothing public -- nothing in those e-mails and that they were going to close this investigation.

But as you know, Brianna, those two letters played such a critical role during the campaign season, and now it turns out that Strzok played a critical role in those letters.

KEILAR: So interesting, Jim Sciutto, because the text messages were key to Republicans as they argued that this bias. This is bias against Donald Trump. But then you look at what Manu just reported, and it just really defeats that narrative.

SCIUTTO: Well you've had a lot of legs to this table of this Republican assault on the FBI. One of course, is this FISA memo, the memo that is still going on. The attacks on Andrew McCabe. The fact that his wife ran for a Democratic position.

2[17:25:07] And these these texts, another one that the president himself has gotten into this fray.

But many pieces of that have fallen apart, or at least raised hard questions under greater scrutiny.

[17:25:17] I men, remember, there was all this talk about the secret society last week, again, based on a text message. As it turned out, the secret society was really a joke...

KEILAR: A joke.

SCIUTTO: ... about -- they were handing out some Putin-themed calendars to members of the team. But listen, for 48 hours, that's all that FOX News and the president were tweeting about.

This, you know, paints a broader picture about Strzok's role here. He's portrayed by Republicans as a Democrat who had it in for the president and at every turn, whether he was in a secret society or, you know, involved in earlier with this talk of a conspiracy in another text message, he was trying to take down this president during the campaign. When you look at it, clearly a more complicated picture about the role that he played here. As, I think, you will find when you look at each pillar of this argument here. Right? It's not black and white as Republicans would like you to see.

KEILAR: But Jake, I wonder. Because when something gets repeated so many times, it sticks. And it has been -- all of this messaging on the text messages showing bias from Strzok and extrapolating that that's bias on the part of the larger investigation. It's been going on for some time.

So even when you learn something new that runs completely counter to that, what effect does it have when the waters have already been muddied?

TAPPER: Well, first of all, let's just state the Strzok texts stink.

KEILAR: Sure. They do.

TAPPER: I mean, they undermined. As law enforcement matter, you don't want FBI agents or prosecutors sending texts like that, because they can be used against you in any sort of prosecution. So I mean, they're not acceptable.

Now obviously, what Manu and Laura Jarrett are reporting complicates the image, because he is encouraging the FBI director at the time, Jim Comey, to reenter the Hillary Clinton thing, then the case is he is not trying to protect Hillary Clinton.

By the same token their reporting suggests that he had serious issues, compunctions about releasing that publicly so we don't know what the reason for that might be.

But that said, look, I mean, the fundamental issue here is, whatever Peter Strzok's career has done and all the fine things he has done. And no doubt he has done them. Those texts stink. They do undermine a case, and -- and he should never have written them.

RAJU: And just remember, the inspector general investigation, that the Justice Department is going through 50,000 text messages, and we expect some finding from that inspector general in a matter of weeks. We'll see what they ultimately determine, but as Jake said, a lot of things are very controversial. And that's one of the reasons why Mueller removed him from his team, because of these anti-Trump messages.

SCIUTTO: Mueller took it seriously enough that he did remove him from the investigation.

BLITZER: All right. Manu, thank you so much.

Jim Sciutto and Jake Tapper, thank you so much for joining us.

And coming up, we have more on the political fallout of the extraordinary public fight between congressional Republicans and the president's hand-picked FBI director. Whose side is the president on?

And later, a porn star appears to question whether the signature on her latest denial on an alleged affair with Donald Trump is really her signature at all. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: We're following multiple breaking stories including the extraordinary public fight involving the FBI, Congress and the White House as the president considers releasing a secret memo from House Republicans that alleges FBI surveillance abuses. The bureau, led by the president's hand-picked director, Christopher Wray, went public with its own statement, expressing grave concerns about the memo's accuracy.

[17:33:25] I want to bring in our specialists to talk about this. Phil Mudd, I want to start with you, because you were at the FBI. You were an intel advisor there, a senior intel advisor. Tell us how unusual it is for the FBI to come out publicly with a statement like this.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, I can't remember anything like this, obviously, when I was at the bureau. We had significant issues related to congressional investigations, I.G. investigations; issues related to the security of Americans.

For example, back, 10, 12, 15 years ago, there was an issue related to overcollection of intelligence against American citizens. Front-page news. The way that's handled, the FBI director acknowledges that there's an issue to be dealt with. He gets charged by the Congress and others to look at the issue, and he comes out and says, "We got some things wrong. This is how we're going to do it right."

We did the same thing with bipartisan reviews, as you'll recall, after 9/11, after the WMD debacle in Iraq. There's a standard way to do this, which is look at the facts; spend months, potentially, looking at the facts in hundreds of cases; interview the individuals involved; and step back in a bipartisan way to say what happened.

In this case, though, let me cut to the chase. We have a simple choice. The battle lines are drawn. Do you believe a Republican FBI director, Republican attorney general, Republican deputy attorney general, Republican special counsel, or do you believe people who say the Americans should be in a state of hysteria, because there's a deep state out there? That's what's going on. A president who's been around for 13 months or an FBI that's been around since 1908. You pick them, because the president's told us we've got to draw battle lines; and he's told us you've got to make a choice.

KEILAR: Phil really clarifies that there, Nia. This is the president, and all of those other Republicans.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

[17:35:03] KEILAR: This is president's own appointee, Chris Wray.

HENDERSON: Yes. And when he appointed Christopher Wray back in June of 2017, he said that he was impeccably qualified. He said that he would serve his country as a fierce guardian of the law and be a model of integrity once the Senate confirmed him. The Senate ended up confirming him 92-5. I mean, that is broad bipartisan... JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: To five.

HENDERSON: To five, exactly. I mean, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders voted for him. I mean, broad bipartisan support.

You talk about this idea of the deep state. This is something that Donald Trump has talked about. This is something that Steve -- Steve Bannon, I think, popularized in this administration. It's this sort of argument that there is this steady force inside the U.S. government that is -- that wants to bring down Donald Trump, and Donald Trump supporters tend to believe this.

KEILAR: Do Republicans -- do congressional Republicans, Jackie, worry about the perception of this, just looking like a total charade when you have the FBI coming out and publicly disagreeing like this?

KUCINICH: I think it depends on what Republicans you're talking to. If you're talking to Devin Nunes, no. Absolutely not. If you're talking to someone like a Lindsey Graham, yes. This is very concerning that they're going after the FBI like this and eroding one of these pillars.

But this -- what used to be a fringe Alex Jones/"Info Wars" sort of deep-state conspiracy theory has now bled its way into the mainstream because of the top of the Republican Party, which is what matters. Because I think what you're having -- Republicans are looking at this and saying, "Well, he's doing what we want on taxes. He's doing what we want on these other things we've been trying to get done for years. I guess we can suck it up."

KEILAR: You know, Bianna, it's interesting. You talk to some Democrats and some Republicans, and they think that one of the big sort of crises of our time is this diminishing respect for, and belief in institutions. And the intel community actually found that Russia not only was trying to aid Donald Trump in the election, aid support for him, but also that it was trying to undermine America's faith in their institutions. That was one of the goals. Russia must be thrilled about what they're seeing happen here.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And they got it on the cheap, right? Two hundred billion dollars or so. And it's all about sowing chaos, which is exactly where we are right now. Chaos in Washington, chaos within the administration, chaos within our intelligence agencies.

I was speaking with a Russian source who said, you know, this is a surprise for Russia and this, in a way, is great news for them. Because it does appear, in many respects, that the president and this administration respect the FSB or trust the FSB more than the FBI.

You look at what happened yesterday, where the U.S. said that they weren't going to impose sanctions against Russia. Of course, Congress had voted almost overwhelming, the majority, that these sanctions should be imposed. The same day that the CIA director said that Russia of course will be involved in our elections in 2018. So this does raise the question of what is going on? You've got a

Russian election coming up. This really helps Vladimir Putin. You see the protests on the streets there. What ramifications are there? None. You have no sanctions. You have this, it looks like a photocopied "Forbes" magazine list of Russian oligarchs. They've been waiting for six months with trepidation, some reports say, for this list to come out. It seemed like it was done on the cheap: "Here you go." There's nothing; no punishment whatsoever, coming from this administration.

And if I can add one more thing when it comes to sanctions, it's not as if this president is not in favor of imposing sanctions. Look at North Korea. Look at Venezuela. Look Cuba. It's just when it comes to Russia that he approaches them with kid gloves.

KEILAR: And I'm going to have you all stick around. We actually have some CNN exclusive reporting that the president asked a key but supposed to be independent member of the administration for his loyalty, basically. Something seen widely as inappropriate. We're going to get the reaction, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:43:52] KEILAR: And we're back now with our specialists. I do want to ask you, Phil Mudd, because we have learned that just last month -- this is a CNN exclusive -- that President Trump actually asked the deputy A.G., Rod Rosenstein. for, one, an update on the Russia investigation: how is it going? And then asked if he was on his team: "Are you on my team?" he was asked. How inappropriate is that conversation?

MUDD: This isn't very complicated. Let me break it down in 30 seconds or less.

You and I, if we get busted for a speeding ticket in a small town, the mayor doesn't get to decide whether or not we get a speeding ticket. The police chief does.

If the president or his staff is guilty of a federal speeding ticket -- that is corruption related to the Russians, that is insufficient documentation or illegal use of funds related to Russian transactions -- the president doesn't get to decide whether he's above the law or not. The investigators do.

You cannot go in and ask investigators, "Do you trust me or do you trust the rule of law?" Because the answer, is same as I give the sheriff. The rule of law wins every time. The mayor loses.

KEILAR: I love how you break it down, Phil.

HENDERSON: It's more than 30 seconds, though.

KEILAR: Like a beat star (ph) when you said it.

OK. Nia, it's not -- the thing is, it's not the first time the president has done something sort of like this to varying degrees. Right? You had him asking James Comey, the then-FBI director, to drop the Flynn investigation. He asked if he had his loyalty. I mean, we know loyalty matters to him, but it's different when you're -- you're doing the ask, right?

He reportedly asked Andrew McCabe who he voted for. And then he raged at Jeff Sessions because he did recuse himself from all of this. He wanted more loyalty. He wanted Jeff Sessions in his corner.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. And he wanted Jeff Sessions to protect him, right? I mean, he talked about this notion that he felt like Attorney General Eric Holder protected Obama.

He fundamentally doesn't understand that there is supposed to be this separation between his administration and the Department of Justice, between the FBI. He just doesn't understand.

I think that one thing that always stands out to me about Donald Trump is his statement when he was nominated. I alone can fix it, right? He sees himself as sort of this -- the principal, right, like he was at the Trump Organization, and everyone around him is there to be loyal to him.

He talks, for instance, about "his" generals. He talks about "my" generals. He doesn't understand that those folks are in service of the United States and its citizens, not him.

KEILAR: But do you think he doesn't understand, or do you think, at this point --

HENDERSON: He doesn't care.

KEILAR: Yes, I wonder that.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I don't think he cares.

HENDERSON: Yes. I think, yes, he doesn't care.

KEILAR: I wonder that only because I get the "I don't understand" when you've only been on the job for a second, but it's not -- he has been schooled on this. You know, you don't do this. You know that he's been advised of this and yet he keeps doing it.

KUCINICH: No, I don't think he cares at this point. I mean, early on, you could say, oh, it's basically my first presidency. He's a year in at this point and there -- you mentioned the not caring about the separation of powers.

HENDERSON: Right.

KUCINICH: They, also in that report, had the president suggesting questions for members of Congress to ask Rosenstein. So that, also, in and of itself seems to be interfering in even the congressional hearing, and there's nothing illegal about that, but, again, it shows a lack of boundaries. KEILAR: Is that unusual, I wonder, that process, if the White House

is to tell congressional staffers or give them some advice on some -- is that unusual?

KUCINICH: I've never heard of it. It doesn't mean it doesn't it doesn't happen. I can't --

KEILAR: Yes.

KUCINICH: I've heard of that when it comes to members of Congress will talk to someone who they're confirming for something. Someone in a friendly party, but never the White House interfering.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KUCINICH: I could be wrong about that, though.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And, Brianna, it could also lead someone to the conclusion that -- whatever the optics are, however bad it looks for the President to constantly be called out for these inappropriate comments -- the outcome or whatever he may be trying to hide could potentially be even worse.

I mean, you could give him that one-off after he fired Comey, saying I didn't know better. Now, we know that just a month after he fired Comey, he was trying to fire Mueller as well.

KEILAR: Yes, it's a really interesting point. Thank you so much to all of you. Really appreciate your insights on this.

And coming up, a porn star's new denial of allegations that she had an affair with Donald Trump or took hush money to keep quiet. But why is Stormy Daniels pointing out the signature on the denial doesn't look like hers?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:52:38] KEILAR: Tonight, there are new questions about a porn star's latest denial of a decade-old affair with Donald Trump. A written statement attributed to Stormy Daniels denies both the affair and the allegation that she took hush money. But in a bizarre twist, Daniels says the signature on the denial doesn't look like her handwriting.

CNN national correspondent Sara Sidner is trying to keep up with all of this. What else is Daniels saying, Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Look, Stormy Daniels keeps making appearances, and she's been consistent. And she keeps denying or not saying anything about her alleged affair with Donald J. Trump. This time, it was Jimmy Kimmel asking all the questions that we want to know the answers to.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER (voice-over): The same night as the State of the Union, late night show host Jimmy Kimmel is seemingly trolling the President about the state of his alleged affair with a porn star.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!": Do you think the President is watching right now? I like to imagine him.

STORMY DANIELS, ACTRESS: I don't want to imagine him.

(LAUGHTER)

KIMMEL: Well, you don't have to imagine him. I mean --

(LAUGHTER)

SIDNER (voice-over): Stormy Daniels, the adult entertainment actress, director, and stripper who had an alleged affair with Donald Trump, appeared on the show. But just hours before the show, this signed letter was published, denying a 2006 affair ever happened and denying Daniels was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about it.

The original allegations about the payment were first reported by "The Wall 2Street Journal."

KIMMEL: Did you sign this letter that was released today?

DANIELS: I don't know. Did I?

KIMMEL: Wait a minute. That, you can say, right?

DANIELS: But that does not look like my signature, does it?

KIMMEL: It doesn't look like your signature. Do you know where it came from? Do you have any idea?

DANIELS: I do not.

KIMMEL: You do not know where it came from.

SIDNER (voice-over): Actually, the letter came from her own manager, Gina Rodriguez. We know because she sent the letter to CNN and other outlets saying it was from Stormy. She was also with Daniels at Kimmel's show.

As for the signatures, the one on the left is the newest denial of an affair. The one on the right was provided by Donald Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, dated January 10th. Daniels has not clarified if either was signed by her.

As for the alleged nondisclosure agreement.

KIMMEL: I know you either do or don't have a nondisclosure agreement which, if you didn't have a nondisclosure agreement, do you have a nondisclosure agreement?

DANIELS: Do I?

KIMMEL: You can't say whether you have a nondisclosure agreement. But if you didn't have a nondisclosure agreement, you most certainly could say, I don't have a nondisclosure agreement, yes?

[17:55:07] DANIELS: You're so smart, Jimmy.

KIMMEL: Thank you very much.

SIDNER (voice-over): Smart enough to ask about the 2011 "In Touch Magazine" interview Daniels did, detailing her sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in 2006.

KIMMEL: You engaged in textbook generic sex. He did not use protection. Afterwards, he told you he wanted to see you again and asked you to sign a copy of one of your DVDs.

DANIELS: Well, he does have good taste, I guess.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, one of the big reasons why "The Wall Street Journal" did the story is there are questions, they said, about where the $130,000 came from, the alleged money that she was paid to keep quiet, and if the nondisclosure agreement actually, you know, has anything to do with federal election rules, if it broke rules or not.

We still do not know the answer to any of that. And we have heard nothing from the FEC as to whether there is going to be any kind of investigation, Brianna.

KEILAR: So many unanswered questions. Sara Sidner, thank you so much for that.

And coming up, we have breaking news. President Trump is in a showdown with his handpicked FBI Director as the FBI publicly warns that it has grave concerns about the accuracy of a Republican memo alleging FBI abuses, a memo that the President has vowed to release.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Happening now, breaking news. War with the FBI. The Bureau's Director handpicked by the President publicly undermines Mr. Trump's plan to release a controversial memo.

Tonight, grave concerns and a potential constitutional showdown over the Russia investigation.

[18:00:04] Team sport. CNN has learned that Mr. Trump appeared to test the loyalty of the Deputy Attorney General as he fished for information about the Special Counsel's investigation.