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White House Officials Expect Decision On Nunes Memo Today; Trump Sees Nunes Memo As A Way To Discredit Russia Probe; FBI Agent Who Sent Texts Mocking Trump Co-Wrote Draft Letter Reopening Clinton Email Probe. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:27]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. Memo mania fully engulfing Washington right now. CNN learning that today is likely to be the day the president makes his decision and if he thought the nation's capital was divided now, the memo's release could take that division to a whole new level.

The question is when and how the White House will ignore two of the nation's top law enforcement officials, FBI Chief Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, two men that the Trump administration appointed and, will they release the memo that alleges FBI surveillance abuses?

The top Democrat on the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff, not just opposing its release, but also claiming that the memo's Republican author, committee chair and former Trump transition member, Devin Nunes, made significant changes to it before sending it over to the White House.

CNN learning that the president himself is saying the memo could help discredit the Russia investigation. His Chief of Staff John Kelly and House Speaker Paul Ryan also want the memo released.

I want to begin with CNN's Kaitlan Collins live for us at the White House. Kaitlan, we're now hearing why the president wants this memo out so badly, he's being pretty up-front about this with friends and associates.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's exactly right, Brianna. I should not that the president just departed the White House, going to that Republican retreat in West Virginia and as he walked out on the south lawn to board Marine One, he did not answer questions from reporters.

You can see him right there walking over to Marine One, but, yes, the latest breaking news from the White House -- CNN White House team is that the president believes that this controversial secret memo could serve to discredit the entire Russia investigation if it is released.

And he's been telling allies and friends and phone calls in recent days he believes that the release of this memo will expose bias among the top ranks of the FBI and therefore show that these investigations have been prejudiced against him since the beginning.

Now, all of this is very revealing into the president's mindset because it shows why he's been so feverish about the release of this memo. As you saw, after he addressed the state of the union address earlier this week, he said 100 percent he was going to release this memo, even though according to White House officials he had not even read the memo at that point.

So, it gives you some insight into his thinking behind the release of this memo. And furthermore, we're also learning that the president was very upset yesterday after the FBI issued a very harsh defiant staple condemning the release of this memo, saying it shouldn't be released.

Because they believe it is actually misleading and doesn't tell the entire story, which is something also that critics and Democrats have argued as far as this memo goes. That's noteworthy because the FBI is led by someone who is handpicked by the president.

That's Christopher Wray, who the president chose to lead the FBI after he fired the other FBI Director James Comey. But, yes, you're right, the release of this memo could come as early as today. The president has been very clear he wants it out there, Brianna, now it's just a question of when is it going to be released.

KEILAR: Kaitlan, are your sources telling you anything about the president's thinking when it comes to the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man overseeing the special counsel?

COLLINS: Yes, that's right. We know actually that the president has been fuming about Rosenstein in recent weeks saying that he believes he's just another government official out to get him, but the question now is this memo, which the "New York Times" reported really points the finger at Rosenstein saying he was the one who signed off on the extension of surveillance of that former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page.

The president believes this memo could also be used to justify those resentments -- that resentment that the president has towards Rosenstein and the reason that he believes he is biased.

So, a lot of things that the White House is banking and the president himself is banking on this memo serving as a reason to put some credit behind his thinking here -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins live for us at the White House, thank you so much for that.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, who is on the House Intelligence Committee. Sir, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.

REPRESENTATIVE JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Hi, Brianna. KEILAR: So, you know, it has been pretty clear that the Nunes memo is an effort by Congressional Republicans, something welcomed by the White House, to discredit the FBI and the DOJ and the Russia investigation by the special counsel.

But now CNN has reporting that the president is flat out telling his friends and associates this, that, you know, the end goal is to discredit this investigation, what is your reaction to that?

[11:05:02] HIMES: Well, it is an interesting thing because the president is one of the very few people involved in supporting this memo, because, of course, Chairman Devin Nunes supports it, lots of Republicans do.

He's the one guy who gets to go in front of the American people, apparently, and tell blatant falsehoods, to lie. This morning, we learned from the president that the state of the union address was the largest ever, that, of course, is far from the truth.

And so, it is not at all surprising to me that he gets a memo that he feels though it is full of falsehoods and I will tell you that it is full of falsehoods, it is a shoddy and poorly written memo that will be very rapidly refuted by the facts and by the 10-page memo that the Democrats wrote when we saw it, and by the way, it will be refuted by the FBI and the DOJ, the president obviously --

KEILAR: But that memo, that 10-page memo, the Democratic rebuttal we may not see that?

HIMES: Well, it is interesting because that memo would have to go through the same process that the Nunes --

KEILAR: And you have more Republicans on the committee than Democrats, right? This would require cooperation.

HIMES: Well, the Republicans were saying that they wanted to release both. But, remember, the ultimate decision would be made by the president. When the president reads the Democratic memo, and shows that the Republican memo is just flat out false, my guess is that he doesn't authorize its release.

KEILAR: If -- OK, so you think it will come down to the president. Now, if the president is telling friends and associates that he believes releasing the Nunes memo will discredit the Russia investigation, do you think that is obstruction?

HIMES: It is part of a pattern of doing everything he can to get rid of the people who run this -- the investigation and, of course, now, you know, he's angry at his own appointed FBI director. He's angry at his own appointed Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.

People who are not only his appointees but are Republicans as Bob Mueller is, as Jim Comey was. So, there is without question an ongoing effort, despite the fact he claims innocence and that there is no collusion. There is an ongoing effort by this president and the White House to completely discredit, to stop, to end this critical investigation, which is the only way he's going to prove his innocence by the way, which is the bizarre thing here.

KEILAR: The Intel Committee voted along party line Monday night to release this memo to the White House. You had asked the Republican chairman according to the transcript which you can see Devin Nunes if the memo, this precise memo that you voted on is what was going to the White House, he seemed to indicate that it was, but now you're concerned that that's not the case.

HIMES: Well, as Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the committee reported last night, he got a look at the memo that was actually sent to the White House and it was different. Now, there are questions about how different it was.

But the point is the committee did not authorize the release of the memo in any way different from the one that we looked at. As you are referring to in that meeting, I said word for word, will this be submitted, is this the exact memo and the chairman never said that it would be changed by the committee before it went to the White House. And, Brianna, this is important because --

KEILAR: He said, just to be clear, he said the content would be submitted to the White House. And I will tell you, reading it, the indication is that, yes, this is what is going to be sent to the White House.

You're right, Adam Schiff said there is a materially different than the original memo, but on Nunes' side, a spokesman is saying that there are minor edits to the memo including grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and the minority themselves, so Democrats is what he's saying.

The vote to release memo was absolutely procedurally sound and in accordance with House and committee rules. So, you haven't seen the new memo, how do you know is -- this is, you know, perhaps incorrect without seeing those adjustments yourself?

HIMES: Well, you know, because I've been out of D.C., as has the rest of the committee, I think only Adam Schiff has had the opportunity to look at both. The words he used were that were substantive and material changes.

Look, however big the changes were, they were not authorized. You know, we deal in the realm of laws. When we write a bill and pass a bill, you don't get to make changes unless you have explicit permission from the Congress to make technical changes.

Those were never -- that permission was never given here. Look, this is all part, Brianna, of an attempt to shoot this through. The big element here in that business meeting, the big element here, we asked that we made a motion that the FBI and the Department of Justice be invited in to have a conversation with the committee, about these allegations, which are very, very serious, about the underlying classified information, which nobody on the committee but for two members had looked at, and the vote was no, we will not let the DOJ and the FBI come in to have this conversation.

When Congress does its oversight, Brianna, this is very important, when we suspect that something may not be quite right at the Department of Energy or at the Department of Agriculture, we call them in and we ask them questions. This was put into a memo, which was put on a greased rail it being released to the public.

[11:10:08] So, it is not too hard to see what is actually happening here. This has nothing to do with oversight. This is the latest installment in the massive effort to discredit Mueller and his investigation of the Russia hack and whether there was any American involvement.

KEILAR: It has become such a political football and the American people haven't been able to see this memo yet. They haven't been able to see the underlying intelligence. Do you think at this point in time, when there is so much bickering over what is in it, whether it is factually sound?

That what is in the best interest is for Americans, for there to be a way to figure out how to review effectively the information in this, and to release this memo, and the Democratic memo, and the underlying -- some of the underlying intelligence in this, at what point do we just have to see this so that we're not taking, you know, this partisan back and forth and trying to make heads or tails of it.

HIMES: Well, we have to see it. So, in other words, the Republican memo may be presumably made available today, that needs to be followed by a public look at the Democratic memo because this must not be framed in partisan terms.

KEILAR: And what about the intel, the underlying intel, so it is not just a Democratic and Republican take on the underlying intel.

HIMES: Well, if you want to step back right now, and ask yourself whether this is fundamentally a partisan thing because I hear all this stuff about how Democrats and Republicans are fighting, that is simply not true.

Devin Nunes and the Republicans have come up with idea after idea all of which have been refuted. First, it was there was wiretapping of Donald Trump by the Obama administration, refuted. Then there was improper unmasking of U.S. persons identities in the intelligence, that was refuted.

This one too will be refuted. But, look, step back now and think about the Department of Justice, which said it would be extraordinarily reckless to release this memo. The FBI said it had profound concerns.

Now my Republican friends are running around saying the FBI looked at it and they're OK with it. Brianna, that's an outright lie. The director looked at it very briefly and expressed profound concerns with its release. These are organizations the DOJ -- KEILAR: The statement yesterday that came out, I will definitely give

you that, Congressman Jim Himes. We did see that very public break with the FBI director that the president himself appointed. I'm so sorry, I'm out of time. We'll leave there with you, Congressman Himes. We'll have you back again soon. Thank you so much for being with us.

And joining me now to talk more about this is Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics" and CNN political analyst, Mark Preston, with us as well.

OK. So, Caitlin, you just heard Congressman Himes there, he asked Nunes directly if the memo that the committee voted on would be the memo that goes to the White House. Now he feels that Nunes wasn't truthful.

You're hearing these two different sides, one is, you know, these aren't real, just minor edits and the other side is saying, no there is material changes. What do you make of this?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": Exactly. Remember, this committee is traditionally a bipartisan committee, the House Intelligence Committee, but we have seen over the past course of the past several months and years that this committee has kind of spiraled into partisan chaos, really.

And so, you have this bickering between the two sides and it's important to note too that Nunes has had to recuse himself from Russia probes. What is interesting to me is, you know, we all agree that Congress has oversight over these agencies, and I think that is critical.

But the cherry picking of information raises a lot of alarm bells and the question I have is about the president's eagerness to have this -- this particular memo come out because we know that he has tried to kind of discredit the Mueller probe and he has allies in Congress that have tried to undermine the probe.

We also saw reporting last night that he -- last week, I'm sorry, that he was interested in firing special counsel. And we have seen reporting that this is focused particularly on Rod Rosenstein who, of course, appointed Robert Mueller. So, my question is --

KEILAR: He's the firewall between the president and Robert Mueller --

HUEY-BURNS: Exactly. So, that's my question about what this could prompt the president to do.

KEILAR: And then this new reporting, right, that we're hearing about the president -- I mean, he's being pretty forth coming with friends and associates about why this memo serves a purpose for him, that it discredits the Russia investigation.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And we shouldn't be surprised by that, because all along we know that's why he wanted to release the memo. KEILAR: But is it a problem, he's admitting it?

PRESTON: A huge problem, and it also leads you to think why are his friends and associates talking about it and telling the media. You could only jump to one conclusion on that, they want to try to pressure him not to do so because they realize it is going to be a bad thing for his presidency, a bad thing --

KEILAR: To release the memo.

[11:15:03] PRESTON: -- for the country. Absolutely. Look, we should take a step back, should the memo be released, perhaps it should be released, OK.

KEILAR: You wanted this point because it has been -- at this point people need to take a look at what everyone is talking about on the Hill, or is that what you mean? That's why it should be released?

PRESTON: Absolutely. But should it go through the proper vetting process that the FBI is concerned about, about tactics, you know, how they acquire a FISA warrant, all the steps that go into it. And at the same time, though, the Democratic memo should be released.

I think it is interesting that what Jim Himes did say, if you pass a bill, not the same thing, but if you pass a bill in either the House or the Senate, OK, and there are changes to that bill by the other chamber, that chamber has to vote again on it. And in this time, of course, this isn't legislation, but Nunes chose to make changes after everybody agreed on something. That's shady.

KEILAR: You change a word, it has to, you know, you have to take another look at it. Right?

HUEY-BURNS: It goes back and forth and back and forth.

KEILAR: And this is not -- this is significant -- this is classified information, right? This isn't just -- this isn't naming a post office, right?

HUEY-BURNS: Exactly. This is coming from the president who has decried the leaks of classified information in Washington, who has made a real kind of law and order campaign out of it. We're all, I think, for full transparency especially as reporters we would like to see both memos put out there potentially for the public to see and -- but your question about the raw data underneath that and the context is really important, and it just raises a lot of questions about why the president is pushing so hard for this.

KEILAR: Look at this graphic here, real quick, Mark, so Paul Ryan wants the memo released. Why is he -- does he have a choice other than to go along, considering that they're, you know, he would have the cover of the president's appointed FBI director if he decided to not take a position.

PRESTON: Right. And I think that what Paul Ryan is kind a rock in a hard place. What we have seen over the past year is that he has removed himself from the process, and in many ways, I give him credit for doing so, allowing his chairman to actually drive the process. That's how Congress is supposed to work.

However, in a situation like this, where it is so explosive, you have the FBI director coming out and putting out a statement, which we should note to our viewers is very rare that they would actually do so, that does say something.

Again, do we want the memo released? Absolutely. Should it be done in a way that is respectful to the concerns of the FBI and the intelligence services? Absolutely.

KEILAR: All right. Caitlin and Mark, thank you so much to both of you. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, CNN's exclusive reporting on former FBI Agent Peter Strzok may put a big wrinkle in Republican claims that he was a partisan actor out to take down Donald Trump. We'll have details ahead.

Plus, a former Trump legal spokesman is reportedly ready to dish on White House Communications Director Hope Hicks and now an attorney for Hicks is fighting back. We are going to have the details after the break.

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[11:22:18]

KEILAR: A CNN exclusive that may complicate Republican claims that former FBI Agent Peter Strzok was a partisan actor who plotted to take down Donald Trump. CNN obtaining e-mails that show Strzok actually played a large role in drafting the letter to Congress that announced the bureau was reopening the probe into Hillary Clinton's e-mails just days before election day.

Hillary Clinton herself blames that announcement for her election loss, telling the "Today" show in September, that without it she would have beat Donald Trump.

CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is joining me now with details on this. Laura, what can you tell us about Strzok's role in that controversial letter that was sent to Congress just weeks before the 2016 election and inevitably as anyone would expect a letter like that going to Congress immediately became public.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brianna, we've now obtained the e-mail thread, the critical thread back from 2016 in October which shows that Strzok actually took the first crack at drafting former FBI Director James Comey's letter to Congress, where he essentially revealed that he was reopening the Clinton e-mail server investigation just days before the election because they had found some e-mails on former Congressman Anthony Weiner's laptop.

Now a source familiar with Strzok's thinking in all of this tells me that on the one hand Strzok was -- he wanted to pursue this investigation aggressively. He wanted to see whatever leads he could find on that laptop and felt like it was important to see it through.

But on the other hand, he had real reservations about how all of this was being done in the public square, so close to the election, and the text messages that have now been turned over to Congress between him and FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, bear that out.

So, while on the one hand, the president calls his behavior treasonous, the evidence now shows that he actually took action just days before the election that could have actually hurt Hillary Clinton's chances of winning.

KEILAR: Laura Jarrett, live for us, from the DOJ, thank you so much for that. I have so much to discuss here. I want to bring in CNN intelligence and security analyst and former CIA operative, Bob Baer with us, and Tom Fuentes, CNN senior law enforcement analyst and former assistant director at the FBI.

So, Bob, this is interesting this new revelation about Peter Strzok because he really had been portrayed by Republicans as someone who was anti-Trump. It turns out he may have had that sentiment a little bit for both candidates, you know, actually a number of Americans did. What does this do, though, at this point in time when Republicans hammered on this narrative of him? Does it really affect it?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that whole narrative that there is some sort of secret state inside the FBI --

KEILAR: A deep state.

BAER: -- secret society. It always has been nonsense. This FBI agent was doing his job.

[11:25:06] You know, this new evidence comes up, he writes a letter, they reopen the case, just as he should have, and I tell you, this is really disturbing, this McCarthy like attack on the FBI, which has no basis in fact.

KEILAR: I wonder what you think about it, Tom, with your background at the FBI. This showdown that we have now seen between Chris Wray, who the president appointed, and the president over this memo. For the rank and file, for people who are there working at the FBI, what do they make of this?

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Right now, what most the people I talk to that are retired or still in the FBI are saying, when are these issues going to be resolved? The FBI -- this goes back a year and a half. The FBI has no control over what the inspector general's office does.

They're conducting the investigation into accusations against Strzok and McCabe and Lisa Page and all that. The bureau is not conducting that internal investigation. What gets released to Congress by the inspector general, the bureau has no control over either.

You have the committees themselves that have been going on for more than a year, there is no resolution there. So, we don't have --

KEILAR: How do they feel when the FBI director disagree publicly, which is very unusual, to come out and say, you know what, this report should not be coming out. Republicans say these details abuses at the FBI, they say, and the president is telling allies that this will discredit the Russia investigation.

So, it seems like that may be more his goal. Do rank and file and the formers that you talked to, do they say, oh this is really uncomfortable that, you know, they're not on the same page about this like usual?

FUENTES: They're not uncomfortable about that as much as why are these investigations still hanging, why is there no resolution, get these done. Whether it is the IG, whether it is Congress, whoever is doing the case, whether it is now the Mueller team, get it done, and resolve because, you know, you always had the statement that justice delayed is justice denied.

So, the rank and file aren't saying we want our people exonerated. They're saying if they deserve discipline, get it done, bring it on. But prove the case one way or the other and don't just let everything hang, it is hanging over the president's head, hanging over the FBI, hanging now over Congress.

You have this bickering about this memo, you know, if you have tens of thousands of documents that that committee reviewed, hundreds and hundreds of hours of testimony that they reviewed, and you narrow that down to a four-page summary, how accurate can -- of course, it will be omissions.

KEILAR: What do you think, Bob?

BAER: It is demoralizing. I was in the CIA under political attack like this, low ranking officer, hadn't done anything out of my duty and my reaction was to resign. You got the FBI --

KEILAR: Why?

BAER: It was just crazy.

KEILAR: Tell us -- I'm curious how did it feel?

BAER: Everything I did, I wrote up in memos and they were disappearing and once had the House took over, the intelligence -- this was under Democratic administration as well.

KEILAR: Is this the Clinton era?

BAER: Yes. I said why stay around. I was GS-15, you don't make a lot of money. You're being attacked for doing your job, why stick around. Don't forget the FBI has got 90 percent of its resources devoted to counterterrorism and now they have to defend themselves against the partisan attack like that. At 4:00 in the morning, you're doing an assault on a house and have to worry about some committee, in Congress, I think it is unpatriotic these attacks in the FBI. KEILAR: What do you think?

FUENTES: I think Bob is right and the problem here is Congress is proving how politicized they are when you have everybody that is a Republican on the committee saying one thing, and everybody that is a Democrat starting with their leader Adam Schiff saying another thing.

And it is showing the American people that this looks like more politics than actual diligent investigation to be fair and unbiased on everybody's part. You have accusations that the FBI is biased and the Clinton investigations in favor of Hillary Clinton because of the Strzok text.

Now you have the accusations that maybe Mueller same thing because he hired so many people that had donated to the Clinton campaign. Now you have the Republican committee, the Democratic committees, exactly dividing down partisan lines and in a way proving to the American public, see the problem with our politicians and why they can't agree on anything, they get in their own camp and that's all that matters.

KEILAR: Tom Fuentes, Bob Baer, thank you so much to both of you for your insight.

Coming up, a new report that a former member of Trump's legal team is set to talk to Robert Mueller and say why he was worried that White House Communications Director Hope Hicks could possibly obstruct justice. The reporter who broke this story will join us next.

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