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Justice Department: 'Extraordinarily Reckless' to Release Memo; Trump Clashes with FBI Chief Over Memo Release; NYT: Hope Hicks Vowed Trump Jr.'s Emails 'Will Never Get Out'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


WENSTRUP: -- we have -- we have to correct them. That's our responsibility. I feel like we're conducting ourselves very professionally. We have a professional obligation for oversight. Keep that in mind, too. Congress has oversight over DOJ, over FBI. It's not the other way around.

[07:00:22] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, is it fair to say that at this point you don't trust the FBI?

WENSTRUP: Oh, I think that the agency itself and members throughout the agency, I have tremendous respect for. You know, in any agency, in any entity, whether it's government, or business or otherwise, you may have some people that may not be performing to the top-notch way that they should be and doing everything correctly. We have an obligation to check into that.

But I'm not going to throw the entire FBI under the bus. And I'm not going to name individuals at this time, because that's what we're looking into.

CAMEROTA: All right. Congressmen Brad Wenstrup, Congressman Roger Marshall, again, great work for your heroism yesterday. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

WENSTRUP: Great for those families. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN "NEWSROOM" is next. For OUR U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Why waste time?

And unprecedented public clash between President Trump and the nation's top law enforcement officials over releasing that classified GOP memo alleging surveillance abuses.

In a rare statement, the FBI is expressing grave concerns about the accuracy of the memo. I know you just heard a congressman say Christopher Wray had no problems with the accuracy. That's not true. It's serving their political purpose of getting this memo out.

The Justice Department warned last week that releasing it would be extraordinarily reckless. The man who gave that warning was an appointee of President Trump. The top Democrat on the House Intel Committee now accuses Republican Chairman Devin Nunes of secretly altering that controversial memo before it was sent to the White House for review.

Now all this comes as questions continue to grow about whether Nunes is working with the White House on the memo. He refuses to answer the question.

CAMEROTA: There's another big development to tell you about in the Russia investigation. "The New York Times" reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is zeroing in on alleged -- an alleged cover-up of that new famous Trump Tower meeting between Russians and Trump campaign officials. Did a top aide to the president try to obstruct justice?

And we have two CNN exclusives. First, sources tell CNN the president asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein if he was, quote, "on my team." Is that another attempt to gain loyalty from the president from someone investigating him?

The other is that sources tell CNN that the FBI agent whose text messages have led to the allegations of bias in the Mueller investigation played a key role in reopening the Hillary Clinton e- mail probe just days before the 2016 election.

We have all these stories covered for you. So let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

All eyes on the White House this morning as we wait to see how and when that GOP memo might be released today. Sources tell CNN that it's likely to happen today, even though the FBI and the Justice Department have expressed some concerns. The FBI putting out a statement saying that they really don't want this memo released because of some factual inaccuracies.

Now, overnight, new drama is unfolding in this ongoing saga.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

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 and said, "I'm not answering that."

CUOMO: Did Devin Nunes work with anybody in the White House on that memo?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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.

[07:05:20] President Trump's chief of staff downplaying the concerns.

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

PHILLIP: After Mr. Trump was captured at an open mic Tuesday night, saying this before even reading the memo.

REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: Well, Alisyn and Chris, the president is already awake and tweeting this morning for the first time in days. He sent out a message, something of a follow-up from his State of the Union address, directed at Democrats and this immigration fight.

He said, "March 5 is rapidly approaching, and the Democrats are doing nothing about DACA. They resist, blame, complain and obstruct and do nothing. Start pushing Nancy Pelosi and the Dems to work out a DACA fix now."

So the president has been silent for quite some time. But this is a key opportunity for him to show how exactly he's going to work with Democrats on this immigration fix as he promised on Tuesday night in his state of the union address -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much for all of that background.

Joining us now to discuss, we have CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd.

Before we get into all the new details about this memo, Jessica, let me just get your take on what this means, the fact that the president is now publicly fighting with the heads of the department of -- well, not the heads. With Rod Rosenstein, with Christopher Wray, head of the FBI, Steven Boyd, Department of Justice official, deputy A.G. Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI, with Steven Boyd, Department of Justice official. What does this mean?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: He's not fighting with the heads of those agencies only. He's fighting with the entire executive branch and an organization, the FBI, that's been around 110 years. He's been around in public office 13 months. This is a setup. It's not a setup about Chris Wray. It's not a setup about the deputy attorney general. It's a setup to say that Robert Mueller comes out with additional indictments.

I guarantee you the president is going to come out and say, "I told you all along. This is a witch-hunt by deep-state bureaucrats who are opposing the Americans' mandate for me to run this country."

CAMEROTA: Right. He's hand-picked people. His hand-picked Republicans he now calls deep-state bureaucrats.

MUDD: That's right. And my point is he hand-picked these individuals. But he's setting this up as the executive branch, the White House against these organizations that, in the past, the American people have said are incredibly honorable.

If you look at polling data about how Americans traditionally viewed the FBI in terms of trustworthiness versus the Congress, it's apples and oranges. He's trying to change that dynamic to say, "You can't trust those guys."

CUOMO: We're used to left versus right. This is people on the right versus the Democrats and these institutions are the democracy. Very unusual. That interview that we just had with Alisyn with those congressman was such, "Oh, come on" moment. This guy is saying, "We want the information to get out," this congressman says.

So you want the information to get out. But you haven't seen the information. You haven't read the facts that the conclusions are based on. You haven't seen the FISA application that you're saying was dirty. But you want the facts to come out. I mean, it's just such a "Come on."

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Of course. But look, for partisans, you know, talking points are easier to remember than facts. And that's a big core problem in our politics right now.

The dividing lines we're seeing really are stunning. It's really Trump world against the rest of the world as they see it. Because he's fighting with his own executive branch, his own employees. That's stunning. Can't simply dismiss that as a conspiracy. He's fighting against Congress.

Certain members of Congress are following in with Trump world, because they see it as politically advantageous in the short run. But this is a collision course with the basic structures in government that are designed to be checks and balances.

CUOMO: And pandering to a political interest of saying it's all dirty. Trust no one.

AVLON: So let's not call it a deep state anymore. Let's call it a conspiracy theory. Because that's what's being fomented. And it's -- and people follow the president's lead, because he is a very effective communicator. But at some point, you know, rhetoric has got to be reality. And that's not going to be on their side.

[07:10:02] CAMEROTA: OK. So Phillip Mudd, let's talk about the new development about this memo. OK? They changed it. After the House Intel Committee, the Republicans voted to release it and to send it over to the White House. They then changed it.

If you believe Devin Nunes's people, they changed it minorly, just minor sort of grammatical tweaks. If you believe Adam Schiff, they changed it substantially. So either way, they changed it. How could anybody trust this memo when it's released to the public?

MUDD: Let's take it back a step. Not only did they change it when you go to the White House, there are thousands of FISA applications every year on counterintelligence and terrorism cases. Thousands.

My guess is in this case, they're looking at some related to the investigation on Russia, obviously, and related to individuals connected with the Trump campaign and saying among all these thousands, among these few, we're going to pick a few facts in four pages and persuade the American people, who don't understand the FISA process and shouldn't, persuade the American people, based on a couple of facts, that the entire process is wrong.

I can tell you from the start that's what we call cherry picking. That's what happened in 2002 going before the Iraq War when people cherry-picked intelligence. We lived this 15 years ago. We're going to live it again today. Cherry picking.

CUOMO: So let's talk about two big developments. The first one is another push for loyalty by the president, John Avlon. This time Rod Rosenstein, are you on my team?

And timing matters. This is in December when Rosenstein was up there to talk about his testimony on -- in Congress about what was going on with the investigation. Rosenstein supposedly answered, "We're all on your team, Mr. President." Because technically right. He is part of the executive branch.

AVLON: Supposed to be on the same team. Fair.

CUOMO: But this is another one. And again, by itself, people will write this off as Trump being Trump and a really ignorant idea about how people from New York speak.

But to prosecutors, it could be a piece in a puzzle of corrupt intentions. Why is he asking this question? What is he trying to get out of these executives?

AVLON: This is clearly and transparently at this point part of a pattern. This is loyalty part -- you know, loyalty oaths part 1,000. And it's not a verbal tick from a guy from New York.

CAMEROTA: Why not? This is how he divides the world. Are you on my team or not? This is how he sees the world.

CUOMO: Why he's dividing it matters. You said earlier he would say to us. But that is context.

CAMEROTA: Fair enough.

CUOMO: "Are you going to do a nice story on me?"

CAMEROTA: That's right.

CUOMO: But if he's saying it to Rosenstein as "Are you going to help me get out of this investigation or not?

CAMEROTA: I get it. But you're saying it's not a verbal tick. There it is.

CUOMO: It's not a verbal tick. It's a window into how he thinks.

AVLON: It's a window into how he thinks. But when George W. Bush says, "You're either with us or against us," it's about America versus the world and the question of terrorism."

When Donald Trump does it, "Are you investigating me and are you going to be kind to me and my friends? Do you have any ability to hold me accountable?" That's totally different. That's the fact pattern of what he says to people in the Justice Department. Everybody knows he's furious about recusing himself and Rosenstein appointing the special prosecutor. So let's -- you know, let's not be too clever by half here. It's fairly what it is.

CUOMO: A verbal tick is when he goes "Forget about it" all the time, and he goes, "Oh, yo."

CAMEROTA: It's how he sees the world. If you ran into him today, he'd say, "Are you on my team or not?" So I hear what you're saying, but obviously he's the president. This is -- the stakes are higher. But this is how he divides the world.

CUOMO: Context matters. You're talking about the guy when he's about to go in and testify. You're talking to Comey. One word of the investigation comes out.

CAMEROTA: I'm not saying it's appropriate. I'm just saying...

CUOMO: I'm saying it couldn't. Prosecutors -- prosecutors are looking at it because they think it's more than just a tick.

CAMEROTA: For sure. Go ahead.

CUOMO: Hold on. So more information came out this morning that is something that you probably won't hear much from the Republican side pushing the memo. And it is, Phil Mudd, that Strzok was, of course, involved with the Clinton e-mail investigation.

And there's now information that that letter that Comey put out publicly, that they were reopening the case, just a gut shot to Clinton at the end of the campaign. Strzok was involved with drafting the early version of that. And that he wanted to aggressively pursue the e-mails that were found on Anthony Weiner's laptop.

By the way, they wound up being highly duplicative and not illustrative of anything new. But that he wanted to look at them. But he was against Comey making it public. Significance?

MUDD: The significance is that you have somebody, ironically, who's charged with trying to undermine the Trump campaign who was involved in the most significant step that destroyed -- partly destroyed Hillary Clinton's prospect for success. I mean, you couldn't have made that up in a novel.

The other quick thing I'd say is people have the impression that somebody at the FBI can initiate an investigation, get a FISA that is intercept somebody's e-mails. You're talking about hundreds of people involved in this decision.

Peter Strzok couldn't make any of these decisions alone. And nobody should think that he's the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. That's not the way government works.

By the way, I would never pick you for my team. I want to make that -- in terms of loyalty pledges, I want to make that clear up front. CUOMO: You know why? Because I'm not loyal to you. I'm loyal to the

truth, my brother. And that's the road that diverges in the wood with me and your yellow tie.

CAMEROTA: Wow.

[07:15:07] CUOMO: That goes to a spine.

CAMEROTA: You set him up, don't you, Phil Mudd?

CUOMO: You lost that one, Phil. Go cry in your cornflakes.

CAMEROTA: A whole lot there. John Avlon, Phil Mudd, thank you.

AVLON: Thank you.

CUOMO: I love Phil Mudd. He's one of the best guys that we have, and he knows what he's talking about better than anyone, but he can't dress.

"The New York Times" with another big scoop. Mueller investigating a possible cover-up of the Trump Tower meeting between Russians and the Trump campaign.

Joining us on the phone is CNN political analyst and "New York Times" reporter Maggie Haberman -- Maggie.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (via phone): Chris, thanks for having me.

CUOMO: I now insist to bother you late at night and early in the morning when you are with your family. But thank you so much. The headline matters. Tell us what you know and what you think it means.

HABERMAN: Sure. Look, I think that Mueller is going to be the one who can really decide how significant all of this is. But we have learned more about how things went down in terms of drafting the Trump Tower -- the statement that was crafted aboard Air Force One about that Trump Tower meeting.

We know that Mueller has been asking people about it. And some prosecutors are -- not prosecutors, excuse me. Some people involved in these interviews are a little bit puzzled as to why, because the argument is that, you know, being, you know, not candid with the press is not a crime, but not being candid with federal investigators would be. And that that was not the issue here. It was simply the former.

We also know of a conference call that took place the day after this statement was drafted with the president supervising it, essentially, between the president, Hope Hicks and Mark Corallo, who at the time was spokesperson for the president's legal team.

He said -- I think he told people that he resigned. There's reporting he was fired at the time. But supposedly during this call, Hope Hicks, referring to e-mails that Don Jr. exchanged with somebody trying to set up that meeting with a Russian lawyer, the initial purpose was said to be about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton with the Russian government's help. And again, this is all said in the e-mail. She said that those e-mails would, quote unquote, "never come out." Never get out or never come out.

And Corallo is expected to tell Robert Mueller's investigators that he believed that Hicks may have been trying to obstruct justice. Her lawyer said that that is false.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: That she never discussed destroying documents. There is a -- there is a scenario where she's talking about it as it getting out into the press.

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: But what's going to matter is who said what to Mueller.

CUOMO: right. Now, her lawyer, Trout, who's an established guy, used the language that would exactly echo a carveout in the statute for obstruction of justice. He used those words on on purpose. And zealously representing his client's interest that she wasn't doing what would trigger that statute. Understood.

HABERMAN: That's right.

CUOMO: So the problem is, on the other side of this equation, you have someone who is equally respected. Corallo worked at the DOJ. He knows what these laws are and how they're made manifest and what should trigger concerns. So contextually, it will be relevant to Mueller. He will make a good witness in this regard for them in terms of why he would be concerned. It's not just some regular P.R. flack.

But you're right, Maggie, it ultimately comes down to what did she mean and what is your sense of whether or not -- she's already talked to them. So what does it mean that this is still something they're looking at?

HABERMAN: I think what it means is that, first of all, I'm not sure that they were even going to talk to Corallo until Corallo was described in the Michael Wolff book as thinking there might be obstruction of justice.

I mean, there are a lot of people who essentially offered themselves up to Mueller by virtue of being quoted in that book, and certainly is -- it's also possible he's talked to them already and had planned to, and he just hadn't gotten to it yet.

My guess is that it means that either Hicks was getting a phone call on follow-up or she gets called back. But again, it will still come down to one person's word against the other. And then of course, there's that outstanding question of does Mueller ever speak to the president? Which is a huge open question right now.

CUOMO: All right. Maggie, thank you so much once again.

HABERMAN: Thanks, guys.

CAMEROTA: All right. Concern in Congress and at the FBI about that Devin Nunes memo and its expected release. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal worries it could be used to target a major player in the Russia probe. Senator Blumenthal joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:23:28] CAMEROTA: The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee is accusing the GOP chairman of that committee, Devin Nunes, of secretly altering a memo alleging FBI surveillance abuses before sending it to the White House. Is Nunes working with the White House on this controversial memo?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Senator, thanks so much for being here.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I know that you're not in the House. You're not on the House Intelligence Committee. You are very involved in the investigations surrounding Russia. What do you know about the changes made to this Devin Nunes memo?

BLUMENTHAL: What we know for sure is that they are unauthorized by the minority on the committee. They were made without their knowledge.

CAMEROTA: The Democrats meaning.

BLUMENTHAL: For approval. Exactly.

And so the memo going to the White House is different from the one that was approved by the committee.

But we also know very, very importantly that the Department of Justice has said that it would be extraordinary reckless. And the release of this memo is really reminiscent of the darkest days of the McCarthy era with character assassination. It endangers methods and sources of the intelligence community, and it reflects an effort to distract from the Mueller investigation, which now is tightening its vice with this interview with Mark Corallo that "The New York Times" is...

CAMEROTA: The spokesperson for the Trump legal team and Mark Corallo, we're expecting to be interviewed sometime in the next two weeks. And we are expecting what you're referring to in "The New York Times" -- we just had Maggie Haberman on.

Their reporting is that he will be asked about the aftermath of that summer meeting with Don Jr. and the Russian lawyer were then on Air Force One they tried to craft a statement that it wasn't about sanctions. It was about adoption. And that Hope Hicks reportedly, according to the "New York Times" sources, said those e-mails will, quote, "never get out."

BLUMENTHAL: One of the most dramatic pieces of evidence, really stunning, was Donald Trump Jr.'s reaction when he was invited to this June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower. He was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton and he said, "I love it."

He went to the meeting. And the president of the United States himself was involved in drafting an explanation of the meeting, given to Maggie Haberman and other "New York Times" reporters, and apparently deliberately distorted and misrepresented the purpose of the meeting as having to do with Russian adoption...

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BLUMENTHAL: ... not the dirt on Hillary Clinton.

CAMEROTA: Well, this is why your chair, Chuck Grassley, wants the don Trump Jr. transcript of when you all interviewed him to be released. Is that going to be released?

BLUMENTHAL: I certainly hope so. I believe it will be. And it will be very dramatic, because there are explosive pieces of that transcript that have been already revealed in part in exchange with Wikipedia and its effort to amplify what it already knew in terms of stolen memos. So I think it's going to be a dramatic moment.

CAMEROTA: What other explosive things are in there?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, I'll await its release, since we're under a bar to talk about what's in the memo. But I think that...

CAMEROTA: But why? This isn't classified, right? I mean, this was just a closed-door interview, right? Can you talk about what he said?

BLUMENTHAL: There are rules which we are committed to observe.

But I will say this, Alisyn, that the people of America will have a right to ask about the recollection of Donald Trump Jr. and other witnesses, whether they are being forthcoming to the committee.

And here's the most important point. Not only should the transcripts be released, but also Donald Trump Jr. should be subpoenaed to appear under oath in public, answering questions from committee members so that people know that all the documents have been produced under subpoena and that he is testifying in public. They need to know.

CAMEROTA: When do you think that transcript will be released?

BLUMENTHAL: I hope very shortly. That's really within the chairman's prerogative. What I hope will happen as a result of that release is that we will continue with public testimony. Because I think it's very important that we move forward in protecting the special prosecutor against these relentless and consistent attacks on him.

CAMEROTA: CNN has new exclusive reporting today that, in December, Rod Rosenstein, deputy A.G., met with the president at the White House. And the president is quoted as asking Rod Rosenstein, "Are you on my team?" How do you interpret that? BLUMENTHAL: That CNN report is very significant. No. 1, it shows the

president's complete misapprehension and miscomprehension about the role of the Department of Justice. It's not his team. Rod Rosenstein serves the American people. The Justice Department is not Donald Trump's department. It's the American people's.

Second, it corroborates what Jim Comey has testified about, the loyalty oath that the president demanded of him.

CAMEROTA: But it does not corroborate what Rod Rosenstein testified to. Correct me if I'm wrong. Didn't Rod Rosenstein testify that he had not been asked for a loyalty pledge?

BLUMENTHAL: And that's an excellent question, because he did testify before Congress that there was no loyalty pledge demanded of him.

But he may have interpreted somewhat differently when the president said, "Are you on my team." He may not have interpreted that as a pledge of loyalty. He's going to have to explain, in other words, the differences.

CAMEROTA: There are six people -- we have a graphic to show everyone -- that have been asked for some sort of, call it what you want, an "Are you on my team" question or a loyalty pledge of some kind. And we have it there. Now Rod Rosenstein -- Rod Rosenstein included.

But you know, you know the question. Is this just Trump being Trump?

BLUMENTHAL: It certainly reflects a pattern which is deeply disturbing. The politicization of justice in this country, the taking of the Department of Justice and the FBI to partisan levels that we haven't seen. The attacks on the integrity of the premier law enforcement agency in the United States, perhaps in the world. And an undermining of the rule of law. And for Donald Trump to be demanding these kinds of loyalty pledges, call them what you will --