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FBI has Concerns over Memo; Train Carrying Congress Members Hits Truck; Congress Members Give Aid; NTSB Investigate Reason Behind Crash. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired January 31, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto in, again, for Wolf Blitzer.
The FBI sounding the alarm over a secret Republican memo, accusing the FBI of abusing its surveillance powers.
The FBI issuing a defiant statement just now, saying, quote, "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 facts that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy." Fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.
CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz joins me now with the latest developments.
Tell us the back story here. The FBI is saying that this is just factually incorrect, this memo, what it indicates here, alleges here.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: That is certainly their concern. And their statement says that they really didn't have a whole lot of time to review this memo.
But from everything that they have seen -- and that is the FBI director, Christopher Wray, has seen this memo. And from everything he has seen, he has concerns that it is going to be misleading, that there are inaccuracies.
This memo, apparently, from what I've been told in talking to sources, does not paint a full picture of the intel -- of what the FBI was seeing, of what the FBI was doing.
And that is the danger here. Is that they -- that we, in the public, are going to see something that is not complete.
And, yes, it's going to be unfavorable to the FBI. And that is because we are not seeing the full picture.
SCIUTTO: I've been told similar things. In that when we say, the full picture, it's all the background intelligence that would have been used to make a judgment that you need to monitor someone here. PROKUPECZ: Correct. So, for instance, if this is about a FISA, a
renewal FISA, that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, approved.
In order to get an approval on a renewal, you have to show the FISA court that the existing FISA was giving you information, that you were getting valuable information for that. So that -- in order to get the renewal. So, that if they got a renewal, that means the court felt that they were getting good information.
SCIUTTO: I want to get more to that. But big picture here. You have Christopher Wray, the new Director of the FBI, chosen by President Trump, openly, is he not, defying the administration here and the Justice Department.
PROKUPECZ: He certainly is. We're told that there are people at the Department of Justice that did not want the FBI to do this, to issue this statement, to go public with their concerns over this.
Privately, certainly people at the FBI, at the Department of Justice who have spoken to us have raised this concern.
But for the FBI to issue this kind of a statement, so publicly, it's unprecedented, unheard of. And, perhaps, maybe the FBI is now saying, you know what? Enough is enough. We've been beat up enough and it's time that we stand up for ourselves.
SCIUTTO: And there are really two issues here. Because the FBI is saying, this is not an accurate portrayal of why we wanted to surveil this person, Carter Page, who is the subject of the surveillance, former Trump campaign adviser.
The intelligence community, more broadly, has been telling me that there's also a danger here that you're revealing the way the U.S. Intelligence goes about its business, how it picks targets and why it might pick a target here.
So, you have Both a security issue here and an accuracy issue.
PROKUPECZ: That's right. And you're dealing with FISA which is some of the most secret stuff that this country does.
By revealing information in a FISA, sources, adversaries, forensics (ph), perhaps maybe a Russian, foreign nations, can figure out where the information is coming from, perhaps. Because we don't really know what's in this memo and what was picked up. So, that is always a concern.
But it's funny because usually we always hear, well, if you reveal information, sources and methods are going to come up. You're not really hearing that, in this case. You're hearing more about the accuracy of the information.
And the purpose of Congress in doing this, of Nunes in doing this, everyone, certainly at the FBI, feels that this is political.
PROKUPECZ: And it's to undermine them and it's also to undermine parts of the Department of Justice --
PROKUPECZ: -- and the Russia investigation.
SCIUTTO: Which is part of a broader campaign we've heard, frankly, led by the president.
Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.
I want to go, now, to White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
And, Jeff, you heard us talking there. This really pits the FBI, with a director chosen by the president against the White House, openly defying the White House and the Justice Department on this. Saying that they are releasing, pushing to release something, that is, frankly, unaccurate -- inaccurate.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does, indeed, Jim. And this is only the latest installment of what has really been an extraordinary feud and fight between this White House and its Justice Department and, indeed, its FBI.
And we do know that Christopher Wray, the Director of the FBI, was over here at the White House on Monday. Making that argument directly to White House chief of staff, John Kelly, urging them not to release it. And, clearly, they are escalating that by releasing this statement.
In terms of where things stand right now. We heard from White House chief of staff, John Kelly, earlier this morning. He was talking in a radio interview that he says this is going to be released fairly soon.
[13:05:00] He said that the advisers and lawyers are, in his words, slicing and dicing it. We know it's a three-and-a-half-page memo and is likely to be released soon.
Now, the White House is not saying exactly when that would be. The White House is also not saying exactly if the president, himself, has seen or read this memo.
Now, we do know it's only three and a half pages long. And it has been over here since Monday evening. So, it seems difficult to believe that he would not have seen it, by this point.
But the White House is trying to, at one hand, say it's going to be released. But, on the other hand, you know, trying to show that due diligence is being done here by the lawyers.
But we heard the president's own words last evening, when he was leaving the State of the Union address, when he was asked exactly by a Republican member of Congress if he'll be releasing it. He said 100 percent. So, we know the president's mindset on this. But I am told, if it is released, it will not come in any type of public setting here at the White House.
It, of course, is a document from the House of Representatives. It'll be released on the Hill from them -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Jeff, so, I have to ask you here, let's just look at the facts. The White House has claimed they're going to go through the steps of a process here, careful process. Five days in the White House to review to make sure we're not releasing anything that is inaccurate, misleading or might endanger national security.
But the president said last night, in effect, the decision's already been made. How do you rectify -- reconcile, rather, those two statements?
ZELENY: It's a great question, and I do not have an answer for you on that, Jim.
The reality here is there is a contradiction between what the president has said, you know, saying that 100 percent he will release this. And his advisers are trying to say, look, it is a process here.
The reality here is, Jim, we know that this is almost certainly to be released. We have heard advisers say that, you know, that definitely is the plan.
The question is when and how. And, also, if some parts of this would be redacted, if some parts of this would be modified, in some respect. That is still an option here, we believe.
But, Jim, the sense here is that the question is a matter of timing. Do they want to step on the message from the State of the Union?
The reality here is this is hanging over Washington. Again, this feud between the FBI, the House of Representatives and the White House here is not going to go away. It's simply escalating here.
So, we do look for it to be released, at some point. The question is when that will be -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Thanks very much. Let's get some perspective now --
SCIUTTO: -- from Chris Wecker. He's a former FBI assistant director for the Criminal Investigative Division.
Chris, you listen to this now. And we know that the FBI does not love the idea of getting into battles with the commander in chief.
And, yet, Christopher Wray, a new director of the FBI, chosen by this president here, felt the need to do so. Why? Why would he -- why do you think he would believe it was necessary to call out the White House on what it sees the FBI as an inaccurate portrayal of events?
CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION, FBI: Well, Chris, if you listen to his hearings, he said he would exercise independence. And he's been proving that since the day he took office as the FBI director.
I think what Chris is getting at is the principle and the precedent here. They're always briefing Congress in closed session and classified settings, on things that are very sensitive.
And, if now, Congress decides to unilaterally release information that they're briefing them on, then, really, it's a breach of trust between the FBI and Congress, not so much the FBI and the White House.
We know the White House is probably going to release this information. I, like a lot of people, would like to see the information.
But, on the other hand, I defer to Chris Wray and the agency, itself, and the DOJ, as to whether that would, in fact, compromise sources and methods. You know, that sure -- in shorthand, that means somebody could get killed.
SCIUTTO: And you're going right to an issue here which is also central to this. Because you have the accuracy question. You have Chris -- the FBI here saying this is misleading.
I've spoken to current and former intelligence officials who are concerned exactly about what you've brought up here which is that you're revealing what is, by design, a secretive process which gets at what -- how targets are picked and surveilled for national security issues here.
How -- what's your degree of concern about lifting the veil, so to speak, on this process?
SWECKER: Well, I, personally, have been involved in using FISA information in open court in criminal cases. There's a process for that.
And FISA information can get sanitized and released to the public. It's really all about the process here. FISAs are based on a mosaic of information, lots of different sources, corroborated.
And, like a criminal wiretap, the person that's getting the FISA or putting forth the FISA application has to reveal all the facts that they know, at that time, that are relevant.
[13:10:01] So, as a member of the general public, I'd like to know if -- you know, if it was paid for by an opposition party, if there was information in there.
On the other hand, I defer to the agencies. Chris Wray, in particular, who has integrity and independence, and if they say, look, this will compromise sources and methods, you have to take them at their word. Albeit, they're a little bit conflicted because the criticism is leveled at the FBI. However, you also have that they report to the Department of Justice. And the Justice Department, as I understand it, is saying, hey, let's hold up here. There -- this is, in fact, going to compromise some sources.
So, I have to defer to them at this point.
SCIUTTO: So, let's talk -- let's talk about what you raised there. Because the essential Republican argument here is that this is going to reveal that this whole thing started because of this famous dossier funded, at times, by Democrats.
I spoke, for instance, yesterday, to the former director of national intelligence, Michael Hayden, who, like you, has been involved in FISA warrants, the issuing of them.
And he made the point, listen, you do not ever seek or get granted a FISA warrant, based on some one piece of outside information. That you've got to have independently collected intelligence to bolster that case, intercepted communications, et cetera.
That if it, say, was mentioned in the FISA application, this dossier, there is no way a FISA -- first of all, the FBI would request such a warrant or the judge would grant such a warrant, based just on one piece of information like that.
Is an at -- is that an accurate expression of how this is done, based on your experience?
SWECKER: It is. I mean, I did a lot of criminal work. Spent some time doing some counterterrorism work. But these work the same way as criminal wiretap applications.
It's a composite of information from a multitude of sources. Some of these affidavits run into the hundreds of pages. So, it's not inconceivable that the -- some information from the dossier went in there.
I think -- in fairness, I think procedures would require that you -- that you would relate to the court that some of this information -- where it derived from, what your source was. And let the court decide whether that tainted the information or not.
So, I don't mean to confuse the issue here. As a member of the general public, I'd like to know how much of a role the dossier played. But as a member -- a former member of the intelligence community, you have to defer to these well-established procedures that are in place now.
And the FBI says that'll compromise sources. I think we have to take them at their word.
SCIUTTO: Chris Swecker, you got your own experience in the FBI and we appreciate you sharing it. Thanks for joining us.
SCIUTTO: I want to bring in now our panel. CNN White House Reporter Kaitlan Collins; associate editor and columnist for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard; and CNN Political Analyst, and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan.
April, if I could begin with you.
APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
SCIUTTO: We know that the president wanted to bask, to some degree, in the glow of a successful State of the Union speech last night, at least by his own measure and others.
RYAN: Depending upon who you talk to.
SCIUTTO: Depending on who you talk to. There's -- you know, there are some positive reviews. This is, you know, how many hours afterwards, the morning after. And this is his FBI director that he appointed who was openly defying the White House. Is it not -- is he not?
RYAN: Well, yes. But you have to remember -- and everyone wants to believe the president -- well, the Republicans want to say that the president is allowed to do what he wants.
But there has been a line, over the years, with administrations and justice as well as the FBI. There's no intermingling.
And now, there seems to be, I'm going to control you. I'm going to do this. Or to leave this over your head, like, I have the power to and to thwart this and to thwart a possible investigation into possible obstruction of justice.
And if he does, indeed, fire, do whatever, or anything is moved around, what is it, musical chairs that we've been hearing about, a justice so things can happen at the FBI. This just does not bode well.
And, I mean, whatever the success was last night, because when you poll, you look at the fact that the people who are watching the State of the Union are basically people who support the president. This kind of -- all of this cloud leaves people wondering and the trust factor.
And there is going to be a crisis of trust, a confidence crisis, if there is any kind of impropriety or look of impropriety that happens.
SCIUTTO: Well, A.B., part of this is an intentional campaign by the president, is it not, to attack the FBI on a number of fronts. And we've heard that, going back to -- he's attacked the intelligence community.
He's attacked the Department of Justice. But he's gone after the very credibility of the bureau, individual senior officials in the bureau, its behavior, the FBI in tatters, et cetera. I mean, this memo, is it not, is part of that broader campaign.
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITICS: We know that the president's advisers believe that a fire storm over this Nunes memo will help change the subject from an intensifying Mueller probe. They know the risks.
[13:15:03] I think, Jim, you pay as close attention to this as anyone. If you know that FBI Director Wray met at the White House to read the memo on Sunday, he's likely been saying this since Sunday. It took a public statement, because it's being ignored by the White House, a process and place with expertise from all these people that are supposed to weigh in on this, take what DOJ and FBI says into consideration, and then make a presentation to the president has all been tossed away. He already made up his mind to release it.
SCIUTTO: And said as much last night, 100 percent was his --
STODDARD: And -- right. And I was told last night that things changed in the Trump White House. That they were going to bask in the glow of the State of the Union for two days and release it on Friday. Chief of Staff Kelly has indicated it's coming very soon.
For Chris Wray to have to come forward with a defiant -- what looks like a defiant statement means that he -- no one would listen to him since Sunday.
Kaitlan Collins, you cover the White House. You speak with administration officials. Do you have any doubt that the White House will go ahead and release this, perhaps be swayed by a public comment like this?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, the president has made it so clear that he wants this out. I mean we saw him -- he erupted at officials on Air Force One when he was flying to Switzerland when he found out that the DOJ had tried to block the release of this. So the president has made it very clear that he wants it out there. I would be stunned if they do not release this memo after the president's attitude towards it.
I mean you heard from him last night himself saying 100 percent. And it really goes to show that even a statement from his FBI director, who the president hand-picked not that long ago to lead the FBI, saying this. And it really goes to show also the president is not heeding the advice of not only his FBI director, but even aides in the White House have said, let's wait a few days before releasing this so it looks like we at least weighed it, mulled over it, thought about these concerns that the Department of Justice has said -- made about this memo and the recklessness of releasing it. And it clearly shows that the president does not have any concerned about that whatsoever.
SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean this --
RYAN: -- the FBI.
SCIUTTO: This devotion to process seems to be belied by that comment last night.
Listen, stand by. We'll get a chance to talk about it more.
Turning now to our other major breaking news story, that crash of a train carrying a large number of Republican lawmakers, including members of the leadership. They were on their way to a Republican retreat when their train collided with a garbage truck at a crossing. There's at least one fatality in that truck, minor injuries, thankfully, for passengers on the train.
Joining me now is one of those passengers, Florida Congressman Ted Yoho aboard the train.
Congressman Yoho, thanks very much for joining us.
We're certainly happy that you and your colleagues are safe. Tell us, if you can, what you saw and heard as this happened.
REP. TED YOHO (R), FLORIDA (via telephone): Hi, Jim. Appreciate you having us on.
And, yes, everybody on the train seems to be fine. There's some bumps and bruises.
We are traveling along at a modest pace, I would say. I don't know how fast we were going. But you heard a loud thud and a jolt to the train. And it came to an immediate stop. We knew we hit something.
And, you know, you always fear the worst. That, you know, there's a school bus or something like that (INAUDIBLE). (INAUDIBLE) a trash (INAUDIBLE) truck that pretty much got annihilated (INAUDIBLE) --
SCIUTTO: Congressman Yoho, I know that you're in something of a rural part of Virginia. We're having a little trouble with your signal.
So we're going to take a break here. We're going to come right back to you.
Meanwhile, there's another congressman who was on board that train with you. His name is John Faso. He's from New York.
Congressman Faso, can you hear me?
Congressman Faso, it's Jim Sciutto with CNN. Just checking to see if you can hear me.
All right. We're having a little trouble. That train in this accident -- this train carrying numerous members of Congress, Republican members of Congress on their way to the retreat. It took place in something of a rural area of Virginia. We're having a little trouble getting those cell phone lines up with members of Congress who were on board. We're going to check those lines and we'll be back right after this break with an update.
[13:23:12] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back.
And more now on our breaking news, the crash of a train carrying a large number of Republican lawmakers. They were on their way to a Republican retreat when their train collided with a garbage truck at a crossing. There is at least one fatality in that truck, minor injuries, thankfully, for passengers on the train.
I want to go now live to Capitol Hill, where our Sunlen Serfaty is standing by.
Sunlen, thankfully no serious injuries or really any injuries at all among members of Congress?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. What we're hearing from multiple sources is among the members of Congress, their staff, and there are many families who were, in fact, traveling on that train from D.C. to West Virginia today, that there were no extensive injuries. We're hearing minor injuries. Some people describing bruises, small injuries. And many of them even saying likely, you know, potentially in the next few days people might have whiplash. Those sorts of things. But no serious injuries on the people on the train. That's according to multiple sources.
We do know the White House Press Secretary Sanders -- Sarah Sanders has said that there is one fatality confirmed and at least one serious injury, unclear exactly who those people were. But in talking to members of Congress on the train, we've heard many of them say, you know, look after the initial collision, that initial bang that their train had with that garbage truck on the tracks, the immediate need was to -- for the people outside of the track. So that seeming to say that the immediate need for the extensive and serious injuries were those people in that garbage truck.
And we've heard anecdotally from many members of Congress, many of them who are trained medical doctors, really jump in and roll up their sleeves and help people. Certainly a scary incident.
[13:25:06] And now, of course, plans being reworked for how this retreat, this three-day Republican retreat goes on. We are told that it will continue on. Vice President Pence, who was not on that train, was scheduled to speak there later today. He has said that he indeed intends to speak there. And President Trump will speak there tomorrow at that retreat in the Green Briar in West Virginia.
But, certainly, a very tragic and very scary incident. One that many members of Congress, their families and staff, are still trying to recover from.
SCIUTTO: Sunlen, as you know, there are a number of doctors, medical doctors, who are members of Congress. And they were aboard that train. Michael Burgess, Roger Marshall, Bill Cassidy. I understand that they took to the aid of some of the injured in this crash, and they were -- they were performing CPR. I mean, just incredible.
SERFATY: That's right. We are hearing at least one member, Representative Marshall, trained medical doctor, performed CPR. His office says that was on the train conductor. We're not exactly sure what the status of that train conductor is, although we do know, according to sources, that everyone on the train seems to have minor injuries. So we'll get more information on that.
But, yes, Senator Flake, many others saying that those who are trained, have medical backgrounds, really jumped right in to help treat people, administer potentially first aid. You know, we saw that in the immediate aftermath of the shooting last summer that took place just outside of Washington, D.C. And certainly this, another tragic occurrence, a much different occurrence, but a tragic occurrence where those trained medical doctors, members of Congress, on the train, potentially some of their families traveling with them, of course, had to jump right in as well.
SCIUTTO: Sunlen Serfaty up there on Capitol Hill, thanks very much.
And just a reminder, we are in touch with members of Congress who are on that train. Just a little trouble getting the cell service down there to keep those lines open. But we're going to continue to try that.
But joining me now in the meantime is the former NTSB managing director, Peter Goelz.
Peter, you have been involved in investigating a lot of crashes, whether air crashes or train crashes. This took place, as we often see, sadly, at a train crossing. A vehicle that was crossing the tracks there. What kinds of things will investigators be looking for in the immediate aftermath?
PETER GOELZ, FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: Well, Jim, you're right, this happens all too often in the United States. You know, once every three hours a train hits either a pedestrian or a vehicle on the train tracks. And, in this case, the investigators who are on their way to the scene, the first thing they're going to be looking at is the front-end camera on the Amtrak engine. And that will probably tell the story.
What you had, Jim, was a special train running at a -- probably an odd hour for this neck of the woods. You had a guarded crossing. The camera is going to tell whether this truck driver made the deadly mistake of trying to get around the crossing when it was already activated.
SCIUTTO: And that is something that happens too often, frankly, does it not? I mean you hear those stories often. And we don't know. It's early -- far too early to conclude what happened here, but that is something that you see all too often, is it not, people ignoring those crossings and trying to get across in the advance of a train.
GOELZ: I have ridden -- yes, I have ridden on the front end of trains through rural Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and I've seen it all too often. Engineers can tell you that it happens virtually every day. Somebody takes a risk. They see the train coming. They misjudge how fast it's going. They have no idea how long it's going to take to stop that train. And they take a chance. And I'm afraid we'll learn about this one very shortly.
SCIUTTO: Yes. And, listen, if you're listening at home right now, the lesson there is, don't even think about it.
Peter Goelz, thanks very much.
GOELZ: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: More now on our other breaking news. The FBI issuing a public, defiant warning, saying it has, quote, grave concerns about the accuracy of the Republican memo that apparently attacks law enforcement agencies. The president said to be getting very close to releasing it. In fact, he says 100 percent. Stand by. We'll have more.