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Trump Clashes with FBI Chief & Justice Over Nunes Memo. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired February 1, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Christopher Wray warning, "Do not release the memo."
[05:59:12] JOHN GENERAL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It will be released here pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the American public wants as much information to be released as possible.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This process is a sham, and it is putting our national security in danger.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Did Devin Nunes work with anybody in the White House?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not that I know of.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is acting as an agent of the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Schiff is saying we voted on a document that has not actually been sent over to the White House.
REP. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: The president inappropriately pressed Rod Rosenstein whether he is on his team or not.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: There's a pattern of Donald Trump doing this. I don't think Hope Hicks is the issue here. The issue is the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it would be fair to say that, you know, this is some sort of smoking gun.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, February 1, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.
A public clash is playing out between President Trump and the top law enforcement officials over releasing that classified GOP memo that alleges surveillance abuses.
In a rare public statement, the FBI is expressing, quote, "grave concerns" about the accuracy of that memo. You'll remember, the Justice Department warned last week that releasing the memo would be, quote, "extraordinarily reckless." This means that President Trump is in a showdown with two of his own top appointees.
Now, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is accusing the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, of secretly altering that controversial memo before he sent it to the White House for review. President Trump could decide as early as today to make that memo public, and questions continue whether Nunes actually worked with the White House on that memo.
CUOMO: Another important development in the Russia investigation is that "The New York Times" has a report that says Special Counsel Bob Mueller is zeroing in on a potential coverup of that now-infamous Trump Tower meeting between Russians and Trump campaign officials.
Remember when the president allegedly dictated a statement aboard Air Force One, insisting that the meeting was about Russian adoptions. Remember the e-mails later showed it was actually about the Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Well, now the question is did a top aide to the president suggest an intent to obstruct those e-mails, thereby obstructing justice?
And we have a CNN exclusive. According to sources, President Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he was, quote, "on his team." Question: Was this another attempt by Mr. Trump to get loyalty from someone investigating him?
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House -- Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
Well, all eyes are on the White House today about that GOP memo and how and when it's going to be released. Sources tell CNN that it will be today, even though the president's own FBI expressed concerns about the factual accuracy of that memo.
Overnight, fresh drama unfolded in this ongoing saga.
PHILLIP (voice-over): The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, accusing GOP chairman Devin Nunes of sending a secretly-altered version of his partisan memo to the White House, which alleges FBI surveillance abuses.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is not about the facts. This is about a narrative that the chairman wants to put out, a misleading narrative to undermine the FBI, undermine the department, and ultimately undermine Bob Mueller.
PHILLIP: Schiff writing in a letter to Nunes that the changes were materially different than the version the committee approved, demanding that Nunes immediately withdraw the document.
A Nunes spokesman, acknowledging the changes but calling them "minor edits," and dismissing Schiff's accusation as "a strange attempt to thwart the publication of the memo."
The back and forth unfolding amid speculation about whether Nunes's staff coordinated with the White House on the controversial memo.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 and said, "I'm not answering that."
CUOMO: Did Devin Nunes work with anybody in the White House on that memo?
SANDERS: Not that I know of.
PHILLIP: Nunes was a member of Trump's transition team. And last spring, he was forced to temporarily step aside from his committee's Russia probe amid an ethics investigation after rushing to the White House to discuss intelligence related to the probe. Nunes was eventually cleared.
The memo setting up an unprecedented showdown between the president and his hand-picked FBI director, Christopher Wray. The FBI releasing a rare statement, asserting that they have grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy. It comes after the Justice Department warned last week that it would be extraordinarily reckless to release the memo without agency review.
President Trump's chief of staff downplaying the concerns.
KELLY: It will be released here pretty quickly, I think, and the whole world can see it.
PHILLIP: After Mr. Trump was captured in open mic Tuesday night, saying this before even reading the memo.
REP. DUNCAN: Let's release the memo.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't worry. A hundred percent.
PHILLIP: A source tells CNN the White House may release the memo as early as today, possibly with some redactions. But it's not clear that would address the FBI's concerns about the memo being incomplete.
In another major bombshell in the Russia investigation, "The New York Times" reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators have informed the president that they want to talk to him about the now-infamous statement written aboard Air Force One, defending the Trump Tower meeting between his campaign and Russians in 2016.
"The Times" reports that Mark Corallo, a former spokesperson for the Trump legal team, plans to tell Mueller that the White House communications director Hope Hicks said on a conference call that Don Jr.'s e-mails about the Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, quote, "will never get out," leaving Corallo concerned that Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice. Hicks' lawyer adamantly denying that she said that.
PHILLIP: Now Alisyn and Chris, CNN is learning overnight that in December, FBI Deputy Director Rosenstein was here at the White House and had a conversation with President Trump in which President Trump allegedly asked him if he was, quote, "on his team."
Now Rosenstein, is the person in charge of this Russian probe. And this new reporting seems to contradict some testimony that he made before Congress, saying that no one has ever asked him for any kind of loyalty pledge.
Now, today, President Trump is going to be going to West Virginia to speak before a GOP retreat with lawmakers. And then he'll be coming back to Washington to speak at the RNC's annual winter meeting. Again, this GOP memo still happening over everything that the president does today and in the hours as we go forward -- Alisyn and Chris.
CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much for all of that.
Joining us now to discuss, we have CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. So before we get into the details of this mystery Republican memo, and there are many new details to get into, John, the bigger picture, the overarching issue is that President Trump is now publicly sparring with his own appointees. OK? So Republicans, the top Republicans, Christopher Wray, FBI, we have Rod Rosenstein, obviously, deputy A.G. We have Steven Boyd of the DOJ, and these are people that he hand-picked.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
CAMEROTA: And now he doesn't have faith in.
AVLON: That's right. This is not Trump against some alleged Obama- backed deep state. This is Trump feuding in public with his own appointees leading law enforcement. That speaks to a much bigger problem for the administration, for the president and his instincts and impulses.
Because if his own guys are telling him not to do things, and he is feuding with them publicly and throwing them under the bus, it raises questions about where the president's actual own loyalty lies. Is he backing law enforcement? Is he at war with it? And when you get comments like the one allegedly made to Rosenstein -- Rosenstein, that's just another loyalty oath we seem to be looking for against the backdrop of an increasingly intense investigation.
CUOMO: And remember, sparring suggests that there are points on each side. To our reporting, according to Sarah Sanders, what, yesterday morning, he hasn't even read the memo yet. So this is more about his just wanting to a cause, other than what his DOJ officials are telling him to do.
So Phil Mudd, give me a twofer. One, have you ever seen anything like this before? And, two, what troubles you the most?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: What troubles me the most is the president has drawn battle lines. And those battle lines are not just between him and some officials who he selected to help run government. It's between the White House and the legislative branch, and the executive branch that he in theory runs to say not only are those deep-state theories true, we're seeing them play out in the Russia investigation.
What bothers me here is that, when there are indictments, and I believe there will be further indictments this spring or summer, the Republicans who are doing this on Congress, including Devin Nunes and the president, had set up what that narrative will be. And that narrative will be this is more representation of the deep state.
MUDD: We should oppose the rule of law in this country. And we should try to undermine whatever indictments follow.
By the way, the one time I've seen this in this country. I haven't seen it before in my life. Nineteen-fifties, when people in Congress said there was another deep state, in that case communists, that proved to be wrong and ripped apart the country for years.
CAMEROTA: Go ahead, John.
AVLON: I think the point Phil is making about a narrative that's being created is incredibly important. Because that's what gets propagated on -- on sort of partisan media channels that reinforce partisanship and polarization. You saw it in certain lines in the State of the Union. If the end game isn't to either undermine, undercut or delegitimize the investigation into Russia, into the president, that's incredibly dangerous. Those battle lines are in people's minds. And that gets dangerous quick for our constitutional system.
CAMEROTA: Phil, I want to ask you a question about this memo. Because we have new information about it. OK? So Devin Nunes altered the memo.
CUOMO: That's what Adam Schiff says.
CAMEROTA: Not only that, it's what Devin Nunes's people say. He either altered it a little...
CAMEROTA: ... cosmetically.
CUOMO: Which is what they say. CAMEROTA: Which is what Devin Nunes' people say. They altered it little; they made cosmetic changes for grammar.
Or they altered it a lot, which is what Adam Schiff's people say, for editorial reasons and to water it down before sending it to the White House. Either way, OK, they altered it. Isn't there protocol?
I mean, we talked to Jackie Speier about this yesterday. The -- the amount of vetting and the back and forth normally that happens if you're going to release any sort of classified information that goes to the CIA, and the FBI, and the White House, and then back to Congress and the committees. So they're altering it without doing this protocol.
MUDD: It's worse than that. Look, the responsibility of the Congress is not just passing laws. These are hundreds of people who go back to districts and have a responsibility for educating the American people about stuff that is so complicated people like me can't even understand it.
So you see a conversation from Capitol Hill in the past couple days, saying this is about transparency. It's about showing the American people what we think about deep state activities at the FBI.
[06:10:14] Well, transparency means now that the American people, who don't follow this stuff like Devin Nunes does, now have to sort through a Republican memo, a Republican memo that went to the White House that was different, a Democrat memo and whatever the FBI says about the investigation.
AVLON: To me transparency is four memos?
CUOMO: Right. And you know, if it's done in the word of transparency, it reminds me of "The Princess Bride." They keep using that word. I do not think it means what they think it means. Because how is it transparent, John Avlon?
And this was -- this was a stumper question last night on the show. OK?
"So you think that the FISA application was done wrongfully?"
"You think the dossier was used as a basis and that it shows these nefarious attempts to go around normal reporting?"
"Have you seen the FISA application?"
"Wait. Have you seen the application for the judicial proceeding that you're saying was done wrongly?"
"No. But this memo is how I'll get to see it."
"So you are concluding" -- this was Steve King, one of the loudest voices. But he's not alone in the GOP.
"So you're saying that you know it was done wrong, but you haven't seen -- and the DOJ officials are offering you something that is unheard of. We'll come in. We'll answer all your questions about how we did the FISA Act. We'll answer any questions you want."
And he says, "How do you know I can trust them?"
AVLON: Right. OK, so a lot of things are, first of all, thank you for the "Princess Bride" reference. Second...
AVLON: This is not about a search for the truth. This is about partisan posture. That it is about undermining confidence in the integrity and independence of our law enforcement. Which is something that Republicans have always backed historically, except now seem to be shimmying on when it comes to the chief executive sending messages.
So this is -- it doesn't make logical sense. It undercuts the underlying premise. And look, we do -- it appears to be the case based on transcripts related to Devin Nunes. They're not disavowing this idea, the direct question that there was some connection between Nunes's staff and the White House on this memo.
CUOMO: He won't answer.
AVLON: Exactly. And that dates back to previous incidents where he was -- he was working with the White House earlier in the year.
CAMEROTA: May I do my own dramatic reading?
CUOMO: Please do.
CAMEROTA: Because we have a transcript of when this question was posed to Devin Nunes from Monday, and it's been released. This is from the House Intel Committee. Congressman Mike Quigley asked, "When you, as the majority, conceived of doing this memo for release to the body and to the public, in preparation, the thought of doing it, and consultation of it, was any of this done during conversations or consultations with anyone in the White House?"
That's an umbrella statement, OK?
CUOMO: That's written by a lawyer.
CAMEROTA: Right. That should cover it all. Chairman Nunes says, "I would just answer, as far as I know, no."
So he does not know...
AVLON: Quality tap dancing.
CAMEROTA: ... whether he consulted. OK, here we come. Here we go. So that Congressman Quigley says, "Mr. Chairman, does that mean that none of the staff members that worked for the Republicans had any consultation, communication at all with the White House?"
Devin Nunes says, "I'm not going to entertain a question by another member." So that is not an answer, Phil Mudd.
AVLON: That's definitely not a "no."
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: It sure is an answer. Look, remember the initial -- remember the initial reason he had to recuse himself? Inappropriate contact with the White House.
Now we have the most significant -- the most significant investigation under way in this country both at the FBI of individuals at the White House but also at the Congress by Republican individuals who were earlier accused of inappropriate contact with the White House. And they're claiming -- they're claiming that there was no contact or they don't even know about contact between their staff and the White House. That's laughable.
Washington, D.C., from the outside looks like a big city. It's not. I guarantee somebody talked to somebody.
CUOMO: Well, look, we have an expression. Plausible deniability. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, hey, did they consult? Not that I know of. That -- what does that mean? That often means that you're going to prove that I know. And I don't want to go there.
And that's what Nunes is doing, as well. Sometimes what people refuse to answer tells more than the answers that they give, John. And that's what's going on here?
The problem is where does it lead? This memo comes out, and that's it. The genie is out of the bottle. They can't undo. When later facts come out or a Democrat memo comes out. Or some big shot comes on and says, "I was there for that application, and that dossier was just a little bit. And we had all these other layers and the thing is this thick," people will have heard it and that's that.
AVLON: That's right. What that's about is about solidifying a partisan narrative. But what it should be about is about a search for the truth. In the end, the truth will come out. But if this is designed to be a brushback pitch, to undermine legitimacy of the Mueller investigation, to distract and deflect away from that progress. That's all they want is the initial partisan reinforcement to deepen these battle lines.
And that is what is is so dangerous. That the battle lines between the White House, his own administration, the FBI, law enforcement, and lackeys in Congress. You've got the -- his hand-picked head at the FBI and also DOJ saying it would be extraordinarily reckless to release this and White House and the president says in the State of the Union, "We have to talk about national unity," and he's going to do it anyway.
[06:15:15] CUOMO: On it, 100 percent.
AVLON: Watch it.
CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Phil Mudd, John Avlon.
CUOMO: Special counsel Bob Mueller very much in the news, focusing on the initial statement about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and Trump campaign officials.
Here is the new question based on new information. Did one and a high profile one of Trump's aides try to suppress evidence? Facts next.
CUOMO: "The New York Times" is reporting that Special Counsel Bob Mueller is zeroing in on a potential coverup of that Trump Tower meeting between Russians and the Trump campaign. The "Times" report that a former spokesman to Trump's legal team plans to tell Mueller's investigators that he heard White House communications director Hope Hicks assure the president on a conference call that e-mails written by the president's son about that meeting would, quote, "never get out."
Let's discuss with CNN legal analysts Carrie Cordero, Michael Zeldin, who used to work with Mueller.
Carrie, we'll start with you here. Of course. point of fact, those e- mails did get out. Don Jr. released them if we're talking about that same body of information. But what is the potential relevance of this information to investigators?
[06:20:10] CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's just another indicator that they tried to cover up the purpose and what happened at that June 2016 meeting. You know, Mark Corallo is an experienced P.R. professional. He was the head of the Justice Department's Office of Public Affairs at the beginning of the Bush administration. He understands investigations. He understands how the Justice Department works. And so he's going to be a credible witness, I think, for the Mueller team when they interview him. If the story he has to tell if there was some effort, we don't know exactly whether or not sort of the way in which Hope Hicks meant those statements if, in fact, she said them.
But certainly the story that he has to tell will indicate that they were trying to, in some way, hide what went on in that particular meeting.
CAMEROTA: And so, Michael, the question is obviously how do we know what Mark Corallo will say since he hasn't been called before Mueller yet. And so this is based on three sources with knowledge of what he plans to say, we're told. And when he is called, we think, in the next two weeks before Robert Mueller.
To Carrie's point, does it involve intent about what Hope Hicks meant if she said these e-mails will never get out. And how can we know what her intent was?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think in some sense, Hope Hicks's line, whether she said it or not, and Bob Trout (ph), who is an excellent lawyer, says she didn't say it, the point -- the overarching point is you have three people here who are endeavoring to interfere with an investigation by putting out a false narrative about initially what that meeting was about and then continuing that throughout the rest of the summer.
And so it shows, I think, almost more than Hope Hicks's inept, what the intent of the president was. And so we talk about this previously, which is the president is the subject of the obstruction investigation more than anybody else.
And when you have to prove obstruction, you need to have a window into the thought process of the potential obstructer, because it's a crime that requires specific intent to obstruct. So this is another window just like the allegations that he attempted to fire Mueller in June. T
his is another indication of what the president's state of mind is. And the president's state of mind from the Corallo testimony as it's been reported in "The New York Times" and from the others is that he's intending to interfere with this investigation by a series of lies to the American public and actions with respect to specific individuals.
Right. With due respect to Hope Hicks, intent can go lots of different ways. They're going to talk to her. This already did talk to her. And they'll make their assessments that way.
Carrie, another window opened up. This one is on the opposite side of the ball in terms of what the FBI did and did not do. Peter Strzok, this controversial FBI agent now in the texts back and forth with Lisa Page, the FBI lawyer that has the GOP in such a tizzy.
It now comes out that he was fundamental in the drafting of that letter that Comey put out saying that they were reopening the Clinton investigation when they found those e-mails cached on Anthony Weiner's laptop.
Now, the reporting seems to suggest that Strzok wanted that opened, that he was aggressively pursuing going after those e-mails, he wanted it investigated. But he was against it being made public the way Comey made it. What is the significance?
CORDERO: Well, it is is significant, first of all, because Peter Strzok has been maligned particularly by House Republicans for having potential bias. This whole thing, his involvement in the investigation and whether or not there was any type of bias is the subject of didn't of justice, office of inspector general investigation.
And so that investigation, those reports are extremely extensive. The inspector general is very aggressive. And so I think eventually -- those reports usually take a lot of time. But eventually, we will understand better the narrative. What's interesting about it is that it actually feeds into what
traditionally those who have criticized Director Comey, former Director Comey for doing, which was -- it really seems like they were struggling in the FBI with what to do with this new information around September, October, before the election.
And that is understandable, because they had a major investigation going on. Tradition in the department is not to do things in an investigation or speak about an investigation in a way that would affect an election. And so this was obviously -- this is just another indicator that that conversation was ongoing and that they were struggling with what to do.
[06:25:16] And some people disagreed with the way that Director Comey handled it. It sounds like maybe Peter Strzok came out on the issue a little bit differently than he has been publicly portrayed. But the maligning of him, somebody who is just a career agent, even if it turns out there were certain things that he did wrong, particularly with those text messages. We really need to reserve our judgment in casting people's entire career in aspersions when -- when we don't know the results of that investigation yet.
CAMEROTA: Such a great point, Carrie. I mean, obviously, the picture of Strzok is more complicated than many people are depicting it.
Next topic, Michael. Now there is CNN reporting that, in this December meeting with the president, President Trump asked Rod Rosenstein, "Are you on my team?"
Now to some ears that is yet another loyalty test. To some ears, that's how President Trump talks. This is what he asks of people. I mean, he would ask us that if we talked to him today. He wants to -- that's how he -- he's done this before. That's how he defines people: You're with me or you're against me. You're on my team or you're not on my team. Do you hear that as something grossly inappropriate?
ZELDIN: Well, I don't know about grossly. But it certainly is counter to the longstanding policies that inform the way the White House and the Department of Justice are supposed to communicate with one another about ongoing matters.
And so we see a pattern of behavior with the White House in intervening, if you will, in the Department of Justice with respect to ongoing matters. Remember, the president gave an interview, I think it was WMAL Radio, saying how he laments the fact that he can't be even more involved with ongoing DOJ matters.
So it seems that either he is just deaf to the realities of on the role of the White House, independent of the Department of Justice, or he's engaging in a purposeful pattern of intimidation or loyalty oaths or something that is designed to impact the ongoing investigation.
Because remember, he asked at the time of the "on my team" request, he asked Rosenstein, "How's the investigation going? In what way is the direction going?" So he's asking for more than "Are you on my team?" He's also asking for inside information, if you will, about the investigation.
And at the same time, remember, he is feeding questions to Congress that they are to ask Rosenstein in his December House testimony. And that -- those questions, as being reported, is about whether or not essentially Mueller has a bias against him because the president didn't choose him as the interim FBI director.
So you see again through this the thought processes of a president who is hellbent on making sure that this investigation is going slow and against him.
CAMEROTA: All right. Carrie, Michael, thank you both very much for all that expertise.
So there's this Polish-born doctor in Michigan. He was detained by immigration officials, even though he's been living in the U.S. for nearly four decades. Today a judge could set him free. We have an update on the story next.