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White House Aides Fear FBI Chief May Quit Over Memo Release; Former Trump Spokesman: White House Aide Claimed Don Jr. E-Mails Would Never Be Found. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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TAPPER: Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I'm Jake Tapper. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Memo war. A senior official says President Trump is OK with the controversial Republican memo alleging FBI abuses and is moving towards releasing it. Sources say the president believes the memo could help him discredit the Russia probe.

Raising hell. Top White House aides are worried the president's hand- picked FBI director, Christopher Wray, could quit if the memo is released. Wray has warned that the memo is inaccurate. One source says his stance is raising hell within the White House.

Plane obstruction. Did the president's top aides obstruct Justice Department officials in covering up the Don Jr. meeting with the Russians? A stunning new report says the special counsel will hear from a former Trump insider about a potentially damaging conversation aboard Air Force One.

And failed missile defense. An American missile interceptor fails to hit its target in a live fire test. Could that failure only serve to embolden North Korea's Kim Jong-un?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We begin with breaking news. As the president moves toward release of that controversial Republican memo alleging FBI surveillance abuses. But top White House aides fear FBI Director Christopher Wray could quit if the president takes that step, given the FBI's publicly stated warnings about the memo's accuracy and omissions of fact.

Sources say the president believes releasing the memo could help his effort to discredit the entire Russia investigation, as Democrats openly worry that the next step could be the firing of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

I'll speak with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence Committee, and our correspondents and analysts, they're standing by with full coverage of the breaking stories. Let's begin with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, what's the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we do know the president has read this classified memo himself. We also know he is poised to ignore the warnings from his own FBI director. As you said, hand-picked, only six months on the job today.

Now, there is fear here at the White House that this could force the FBI director out of his job, to leave his post. All this coming as that memo is expected to be released as early as tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump not talking tonight about the extraordinary feud raging with the FBI.

(on camera): Mr. President, have you decided if you'll release the memo?

(voice-over): As the president moves closer to declassifying a highly controversial House Republican memo accusing federal authorities of mishandling the Russia probe, CNN has learned top White House aides are worried FBI Director Christopher Wray could quit in protest for disregarding warnings against releasing the memo.

He's made his frustrations clear, officials say, but has not directly threatened to resign.

After returning from the GOP congressional retreat in West Virginia today, the president did not answer questions about his FBI director.

(on camera): Mr. President, are you worried the FBI director may quit over this decision?

(voice-over): Tonight, has also learned the president has told friends in recent phone calls the memo could help discredit the Russia investigation by exposing bias within the top ranks of the FBI.

But not all Republicans agree.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This memo is not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.

ZELENY: The latest showdown between the president and his own Justice Department is roiling Washington, a day after the FBI warned of "grave concerns about the material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

The White House downplaying the magnitude of those concerns. The president and advisers have reviewed the three-and-a-half-page memo "to make sure it doesn't give away too much in terms of classification," a senior administration said, who added that on Friday, the White House will tell Congress the president is OK with it.

The White House has gone to great lengths trying to showcase due diligence, even after the president was captured on camera after the State of the Union address Tuesday night, suggesting releasing the memo was a foregone conclusion.

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

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, don't worry. A hundred percent. Can you imagine?

ZELENY: As Democrats join the Justice Department and the FBI in saying the release of the memo could pose a national security risk, House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the concerns.

RYAN: What this memo is, is Congress doing its job in conducting legitimate oversight over a very unique law, FISA. And if mistakes were made, and if individuals did something wrong, then it is our job as the legislative branch of government to conduct oversight over the executive branch if abuses were made.

ZELENY: The memo poured even more fuel on the already politically combustible House Intelligence Committee.

Ranking Democrat Adam Schiff accusing the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes, of altering the document, writing, "It is clear that the majority made material changes to the version it sent to the White House, which committee members were never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review, and never approved."

[17:05:17] Nunes, a close ally of the president who served on the Trump transition team, admitted editing the document, but a committee spokesman called the complaint a "bizarre distraction," insisting that changes were limited to grammatical fixes and two edits requested by the FBI and the minority themselves.

Democrats blasted the president's decision and vowed to keep the investigation alive.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Despite the fact that he claims innocence, and there is no collusion, there is an ongoing effort by this president and by 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So tonight, the question is not if the memo is going to be released; it is when. And Wolf, that looks like it could be as early as tomorrow.

Now, tonight, one senior administration official is telling us about the redactions, saying, "I do not believe there will be substantial redactions to the memo." They want to get this back in Congress's hands. And then the committee, that House Intelligence Committee, expected to release it publicly after the president gives his final signoff -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff. Thank you. Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.

I want to bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jessica, you have new reporting that the FBI is still not happy at all about this memo being released, even after some redactions.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The White House might be talking about redactions, might be talking about accommodations, but a U.S. official that I've spoken with familiar with the stance of the FBI says it still isn't good enough. The stance of the FBI yesterday is still the stance today, and there's still some serious concerns here.

So this is what this official said to me. He said, "The FBI said in their statement that this memo contained material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy." They continued saying, "There may be editing of this text of this memo, but that doesn't change the overall false narrative. It sounds like this is just spin to justify the release of the memo. There are still grave concerns about this memo."

And of course, grave concerns, Wolf, exactly what the FBI said about this memo yesterday, sticking with that stance today, despite the fact that there may be some changes or redactions.

BLITZER: Yes, despite those redactions, those changes, they don't want this memo out, because they suspect it's basically false and misleading and provides a very negative image of the FBI.

You also have some new details, another breaking story we're following about this explosive report, suggesting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, will soon get some details of an alleged coverup of that controversial Trump Tower meeting in New York City during the campaign?

SCHNEIDER: That's right. We already know that among the special counsel's inquiries here, investigators have really been keyed into that Trump Tower meeting, and the circumstances surrounding the subsequent two statements that were released. Of course, the first one was misleading, didn't tell the whole story, and now a new report suggests that Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, might have been part of a possible obstruction of justice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK CORALLO, FORMER TRUMP LEGAL SPOKESMAN: I'm Mark Corallo.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, the former spokesman for President Trump's legal team is getting ready to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and point the finger at one of the president's closest aides, according to the "New York Times." The report says Mark Corallo plans to tell Mueller's team about a conversation he had with the president and White House communications director Hope Hicks, in which Corallo grew concerned Hicks might be contemplating obstruction of justice. The phone call happened last summer after President Trump huddled with

Hicks and other advisors on board Air Force One to draft what would turn out to be a misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.

SCHNEIDER: The statement, which was sent out in Trump Jr.'s name, downplayed the meeting, suggesting Trump Jr. "primarily discussed a program about Russian adoptions" with no mention of what would later be revealed, that the Russians set up the meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

In a conference call with the president and Hope Hicks, "The Times" reports Corallo warned that the statement obscuring the purpose of the meeting would backfire, since there were e-mails that would eventually reveal the truth. But according to Corallo, Hope Hicks reportedly replied that those e-mails, quote, "will never get out."

According to "The Times," Mr. Corallo was alarmed at the implication.

Hicks's attorney immediately fired back with this statement: "She never said that, and the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that e- mails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false."

But Corallo reportedly wrote down Hicks's comments about the e-mails never getting out and shared concerns with Steve Bannon, according to the "New York Times." He left his job soon after. Hicks's words and Corallo's recollection could factor into Mueller's obstruction of justice investigation.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If part of the intended audience was not simply the news but also for Robert Mueller and his investigative team, were they trying to steer them away from some scent trail? Were they trying to create a false narrative that would mislead the investigation?

[17:10:14] SCHNEIDER: The president's newly newly-revealed comments to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein may also become part of the obstruction probe. Sources tell CNN President Trump asked Rosenstein in December if he was, quote, "on my team," and asked where the Russia investigation was heading, since Rosenstein oversees the special counsel.

CNN has learned Rosenstein responded, "Of course. We're all on your team, Mr. President." Shortly after this conversation, Rosenstein testified on Capitol Hill and denied any requests of loyalty from the president.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Is it ever appropriate for the president of the United States to demand that a Department of Justice official or FBI director take a loyalty pledge? ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't have any

opinions about that, Congressman. Nobody has asked me to take a loyalty pledge other than oath of office.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: He did testify before Congress that there was no loyalty pledge demanded of him, but he may have interpreted it 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And we know the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has been interviewed by the special counsel. That happened over the summer. It was primarily about Rosenstein's role of firing James Comey.

And CNN has also learned that President Trump's former spokesman, Mark Corallo, he will be interviewed sometime in the next two weeks, when, of course, these additional details about possible obstruction of justice, Wolf, they might come to the forefront in that interview.

BLITZER: That could be a very significant interview with Mark Corallo, who was the spokesman for the legal counsels over at the White House, and he quit at some point. And I'm sure the special counsel wants to know precisely why he decided to quit that job. That could be very significant indeed.

Jessica, thank you very much for that report.

Joining us now, a key member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me back, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. So you heard the breaking news. An FBI source now telling our own Jessica Schneider that there's still grave concern about this Republican memo, that there may be editing of the text, redactions, but it doesn't necessarily change that concern. What's your reaction to that?

SWALWELL: They have a right to be gravely concerned, Wolf. We're in a first-world democracy, and in democracies, you don't go after the police when they're investigating you. You don't sic the police on your political enemies. And that's exactly what the Trump administration and now with the help of House Republicans are doing. So that's a real problem.

A lot of people ask, "Well, this looks dirty. This looks wrong. What does it really mean?" It's the rule of law being just absolutely pulverized by a wrecking ball. And so we must do all we can to guard it and stand up for it. I'm just really, frankly, ashamed that so many of my Republican

colleagues are allowing this to happen and are looking the other way, putting their heads in the sand, or actually paddling in the same direction as the White House. I expected a lot better of them, and the American people do, too.

BLITZER: But as you know, what the Republicans are insisting, this is the role of Congress to engage in legitimate oversight of the executive branch of the U.S. government, and when they see something that's inappropriate or wrong, it's their responsibility to report it. That's what they say they're doing right now. They saw abuses going on by the FBI.

SWALWELL: Well, they'll be judged by history, Wolf. I have seen the evidence in real time. There is not a shred of evidence that there has been an abuse of the surveillance process.

However, the FBI and the Democrats are asserting that this memo puts out false assertions that would poison the well of public sentiment, that would hurt Bob Mueller's investigation and the -- how the FBI is perceived.

We actually thought, well, why don't you at least let us put out a counter memo that puts this into focus? Our memo is ten pages. It has footnotes, goes into great detail about what occurred, and the Republicans voted to block the American people from seeing that. You have to ask yourself, what are they afraid that the American people would see? And what the American people would see is new, unseen evidence that rebuts their points and bolsters, actually, the FBI's credibility and the seriousness of this investigation.

BLITZER: What do you say to the speaker, Paul Ryan, who insists that this memo, this Republican memo doesn't implicate either the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, or the special counsel, Robert Mueller?

SWALWELL: What this memo does is it seeks to torch every floor of the FBI building to protect the president. That's what -- that's what it will do. And it's quite unfortunate that the speaker would take that tack. We expected better of him. I can't tell him how many times I'm asked at home by Republicans, who say, "We thought Paul Ryan was going to be the adult to look over this Trump administration, not the person who would look the other way, and now, even worse, you know, work with the president to allow this to happen."

[17:15:07] BLITZER: As you know, your colleagues, House Democrats, they're insisting that there were material changes made to the Republican memo, not just some grammar or anything along those lines. Can you tell us what those material changes were?

SWALWELL: Yes, Wolf. I was briefed on what those material changes were. So just so people understand, we voted to send out to the public -- Democrats voted against it -- you know, this memo. The -- Devin Nunes sent to the White House a different, altered memo. That was not approved by the Congress. There are at least five material changes that we have found. They

omit very important information. They cause further confusion as to what is going on.

And again, we believe that this just shows that they're not honest brokers in this. That they're working with the White House to pedal this narrative that there's a taint, that there's a problem at the FBI, solely to protect the president.

BLITZER: When were those...

SWALWELL: It's wrong. And it's time...

BLITZER: I was going to say, when were those changes to the Republican memo made? Before or after the vote by the committee strictly along party lines to release it?

SWALWELL: The vote was on Monday, and my colleague, Jim Himes, asked Devin Nunes directly, "Are we voting on word for word, the memo that we reviewed last week?" And Devin Nunes said, "Yes, we are sending that content over to the White House."

We later learned, and now they've acknowledged, that that's not the memo they sent over to the White House. Again, this should tell you everything you need to know about what's going on here.

BLITZER: Are you concerned that the work of the House Intelligence Committee right now, as a whole, not just on Russia but on other matters, could, in fact, be compromised by all of this so that the U.S. intelligence community, the Justice Department, the FBI, other agencies in the U.S. government may now become reluctant to share classified information with the House Intelligence Committee going forward?

SWALWELL: Wolf, as you reported in your opening segment, we have threats from North Korea and all over the world that are not Russia- related. We just broke an agreement with the FBI that we had that we would not release sensitive materials by voting out and releasing these sensitive materials.

So if we're going to conduct oversight, as Speaker Ryan is so concerned about, how are we going to expect them to come forward, the intelligence community, and give us the nation's secrets and allow us to look at whether they are violating civil liberties or acting in accord with the Constitution if we just broke the trust with them?

So the effects may not be felt today or tomorrow, but I promise you, they're going to be more guarded when they come forward, because we have shown that we can't be trusted and that we're willing to do the work of the White House to protect them, rather than to protect the Constitution.

BLITZER: Should Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, be forced off that panel?

SWALWELL: Yesterday, yes. Yes, Wolf. When he went over to the White House on March 20 when James Comey testified to Congress to work with the White House to begin the undermining of our investigation is when he should have been gone.

I hate saying that, because I enjoyed working with him in the years before this, but he never left the transition team, and what this has caused, the collateral damage, is the House Intelligence Committee is in a position where our members are not -- we don't trust each other. The Democrats don't trust the Republicans anymore that they will do the right thing, and the leader is Devin Nunes. Only Speaker Ryan can remove him, and, again, as we sit here today, Speaker Ryan is endorsing everything that Devin Nunes and the White House are doing.

BLITZER: And when you say "transition team," you mean the Trump transition team. Devin Nunes, a member of Congress, he was a key member of the Trump transition, helping in the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, so he was a key inside player for the then president-elect during that transition.

What's your news, Congressman, to the -- what's your reaction, I should say, to the news that White House aides now are deeply concerned that the FBI director, Chris Wray -- he's been on the job for about six months-- he could resign in protest if and when this memo is released, given his very, very strong words to the White House saying, "Don't release the memo."

SWALWELL: That would be a loss for the country if he resigned. I know the men and women at the FBI that come before our committee. We see them across the country. They want to keep their head down and stay out of politics.

But sometimes when, you know, such big lies are told to the American people, they can't stay quiet. And I commend him for speaking out yesterday to tell the country how disgraceful and how reckless it would be if this memo were released, one that fails to put forward the full picture. So I hope he doesn't do that, but sometimes people who would otherwise be silent so they can do their job have to speak up, and we need more people like him.

BLITZER: Yes. In a statement yesterday, I want to just remind our viewers, the FBI said, "As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns -- used the word "grave" -- grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy. That's an official public statement, rather extraordinary from the FBI about this -- about this development if the Republicans go ahead and release the memo.

[17:20:15] Pretty extraordinary, if you think about it, that he would stay on the job, he would stay on if the president simply slaps him down and releases it anyhow. I guess you agree.

SWALWELL: I do agree, Wolf, and we, again, we need more people at the Department of Justice to start speaking up. We can defend the Department of Justice and the FBI on the House Intelligence Committee, because we know the evidence. And I know it may be uncomfortable for them, but now is the time for leadership, because these Republicans are willing to risk the republic to protect the president. BLITZER: Eric Swalwell, thanks so much for joining us.

SWALWELL: Of course, my pleasure.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news as the president gets closer and closer to releasing that controversial GOP memo alleging FBI surveillance abuses.

And amid all the talk of a preemptive U.S. Strike on North Korea, could Kim Jong-un be emboldened by a failed test of a U.S. missile interceptor?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:25:27] BLITZER: President Trump moves toward releasing a controversial Republican memo alleging FBI abuses, even though his top aides fear that could cause the FBI director, Christopher Wray, to quit in protest.

A U.S. official says the FBI still have grave concerns about the memo, saying it spins a false narrative. Democrats are demanding Republican leaders remove the man behind the memo. We're talking about the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes.

Joining us now, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, former Democratic congressman, Dan Glickman.

Dan, thanks very much...

DAN GLICKMAN, FORMER CHAIR OF HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... for coming in. One of your other former chairmen of the committee, Mike Rogers, a CNN contributor, says releasing this memo by the Republicans would be a disservice. What do you think?

GLICKMAN: I think it's worse than that. I think it jeopardizes our whole intelligence operations, because what it does is it sends to the world that are in trouble spots that we don't have our act together here at home in terms of collection of intelligence, in terms of operations. It's a real terrible problem.

It's disgraceful that this level of partisanship, the release of the memo, shows that people want to seem to protect the president more than they want to protect the country. And I think that's just a disaster.

BLITZER: Have you seen anything like this before? When you were chairman of the Intelligence Committee or since?

GLICKMAN: When I was chairman, it was a long time ago, but I had a very good relationship with the Republican members, my ranking member. We did everything collaboratively, cooperatively, didn't always get along. But we never disregard the views of -- of the FBI and other lead intelligence people in terms of releasing information that could be classified. I just -- this is something that I don't think we've seen in this

country ever before.

BLITZER: So when the FBI issues a statement saying that they have grave concerns about this material being released; when the assistant attorney general sends a letter to the committee, saying this would damage sensitive cooperation with friendly foreign governments and could undermine the collection of sensitive sources and methods, how that is done, you say?

GLICKMAN: I say I agree with them. It would scare me to death to think that we could be releasing this kind of information. It's almost as if some of these people need a timeout, like, parents do with their children. I mean, something's wrong in terms of the behavior that it's become so partisan that the national interest is coming second to the political interests.

BLITZER: So why is Devin Nunes and the Republican majority and the House Intelligence Committee, from your perspective, doing this?

GLICKMAN: Well, I think the times are much more partisan, much more political than when I served a long time ago, and when Democrats and Republicans got together on national security issues.

Everything is tribal now. Everything is kind of divisive, and it's always almost warfare. And so even issues like this, that shouldn't be divisive, releasing information that the head of the FBI says, "Don't do it. It will jeopardizes the national security of the United States" -- we would have never dreamed, nobody would have dreamed doing this 10, 15, 20 years ago, Republicans or Democrats.

So the behavior is bad, and it could be very damaging to the country.

BLITZER: So if -- the next time the House Intelligence Committee wants to get classified sensitive information either from the FBI or from the CIA, from the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, they're going to be reluctant to share that information.

GLICKMAN: Well, I would certainly, if I were head of the FBI or CIA, be worried about this. That's why what's needed now, more than anything else, is working together.

You know, in some places, Congress does a great job of working together, but today, times are so political, so difficult, so tough, and it's made much more complicated by presidential interference into the situation, that it's very difficult for them to do their job.

And, again, the point that Congressman Swalwell made, all these problems in the world -- North Korean nuclear threat to problems in Iran, everywhere in the world -- we lose the ability to show that we're in charge, that we know what we're doing. And so it's not just picking a fight among members of the committee. It's really picking a fight that hurts America.

BLITZER: So why should the average American who's watching us right now care about this? It sounds very complex. GLICKMAN: Well, they want trust that their government knows what it's

doing, and if there's anything that defies the ability to generate trust by the American citizens that our government is competent and has got their interests in mind, this is a classic case of that.

BLITZER: Here's what surprises me. If this is really sensitive information that could damage sources and methods or cooperation with friendly foreign governments, why some of the president's top national security advisers, law enforcement advisers are allowing him to go ahead and release this memo, and presumably, he's going to do it tomorrow?

GLICKMAN: Well, it's very difficult to speak truth to power to a president. You know, I mean, I've seen incidents of that myself. And -- but you do need people who are not just willing to sit around and accept it. And it would be nice to see more people who would be willing to step up, take a risk, and speak truth to power.

BLITZER: Christopher Wray, the FBI director, speaking truth to power, he's saying don't release it; it would cause grave concerns. We'll see if they listen to him, and if they don't, we'll watch closely to see what he does.

GLICKMAN: Well, and if he quits, it's a real dangerous situation in terms of America's national security interests.

BLITZER: And we'll see what happens with Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General as well. Dan Glickman, thanks for coming in.

GLICKMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following, President Trump gets closer and closer to releasing that controversial Republican memo, alleging FBI abuses. Sources say the President feels it will help him discredit the entire Russia investigation. And a U.S. missile interceptor fails to hit its latest -- its target in its latest test. Will that encourage Kim Jong-un who's rushing ad with his aggressive missile program? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:35:35] BLITZER: We're following breaking news and a growing fire storm here in Washington, a senior administration official tells reporters President Trump is OK with releasing a very controversial Republican memo, alleging FBI surveillance abuses and the White House probably will inform Congress about the decision as early as tomorrow. A U.S. official tells CNN the FBI still has grave concerns about this memo despite talk of possible redactions. Let's bring in our specialists to discuss this and more. You know, Gloria, it looks like a lot is being done by the administration to call into question the entire integrity of the Russia probe by Mueller.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's what -- that's what this is about. This gives them a way to muddy the waters, not only the Nunes memo, but you're going to have an inspector general report that comes up probably sometime next month that the administration believes will not be helpful to law enforcement, and this allows them to muddy the investigation without attacking Bob Mueller , directly, and they don't want to attack Bob Mueller directly. Their stance has always been we're cooperating with his investigation, et cetera, et cetera, but you can attack his investigation and his investigators in law enforcement and contaminate the waters so that should Bob Mueller at one point or another say, hey, look, I need to talk to the President, I'd like to subpoena him, they believe they may be on terra firma. And I think this is the President's view that he's fighting back, and that this is his way to do it without attacking the special counsel.

BLITZER: You know, Shawn Turner, you're one of our national security analysts, one of our contributors, what impact does all of this have on the entire Mueller-Russia probe investigation knowing that the President of the United States potentially actually wants the memo to come out because it could discredit that probe?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think for the day-to-day operations in terms of Mueller's team and what his people are doing to push forward on this investigation, this is going to be background noise to them. They're not going to be impacted by this, but at some point, Mueller is going to complete his investigation. And there's going to be a report. And I think that what this is really about is no matter what that report says, he wants to make sure, the President wants to make absolutely sure that when it comes to whatever consequences there may be as a result of the Mueller investigation, that those -- that that's called into question. So, by putting this memo out and by trying to discredit this, you know, what's happening now, he's really focused on the end state here.

BLITZER: But even the effort alone, Chris, to go ahead and discredit the entire Mueller probe, couldn't that be seen by some as part of an obstruction -- an obstruction case to make it look like this whole thing is just -- is awful?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: I mean, it's certainly a pattern of behavior. I mean, there can be no debate about any of that. Look, we've had Jim Comey, Donald Trump says I need -- in January -- I need your loyalty, I expect your loyalty. Comey is gone. In -- right after Comey is fired, Andrew McCabe, then the acting Director of the FBI, who did you vote for -- from Donald Trump. McCabe doesn't work in the Justice Department anymore.

Now, we have Rod Rosenstein in the crosshairs because, according to CNN reporting, Donald Trump asked Rod Rosenstein whether he was "on my team", so there's no question that Donald Trump either misunderstands or does not care about the traditional line drawn in terms of the executive branch and the Justice Department, that independence. Now, does his willingness to sort of blur out that line amount to obstructing the investigation? I don't know. I mean, but there's clearly a pattern of behavior here, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, the -- a source familiar with the FBI's position has told our Jessica Schneider today that, you know, releasing this memo would still give the FBI grave, grave concerns. They're using this word repeatedly now, "grave" which potentially means life and death concerns. You don't use a word like that casually.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but the administration and the President, in his opinion, seems to have cover at least from Republican leadership. You see Paul Ryan now two days in a row saying that he agrees that the memo should be released. He, in fact, is the only one, by the way, who could remove Devin Nunes from this investigation who we thought had rescued himself from it. So, that's a separate question.

[17:40:09] Paul Ryan seems to be trying to double down on the other hand saying that this shouldn't have any sort of influence or impact on the Mueller investigation. You are reporting, however, and Dana Bash and others have been reporting that the President thinks otherwise, that this would impact and discredit the Mueller investigation, and at this point, I am kind of surprised that the chiefs of the other intelligence agencies haven't stepped up and spoken out as well. Remember, this FISA process doesn't just affect the FBI, it's not the tools just the FBI uses. Other investigative agencies and intelligence agencies use it as well. So, it's a much larger scope. I'm surprised we're not hearing from those heads as well.

BLITZER: We're -- also, Gloria, I want to get your immediate reaction to this. We're just learning now that Rick Gates, you know, who's been charged -- who's been charged by Mueller, he was one of the deputies to Paul Manafort, the campaign -- the Trump campaign chairman, that attorneys representing Rick Gates are now withdrawing from the case according to a new court filing they provided a reason to the court, but it's under seal. We don't know what that -- what the reasoning is. Attorneys for the -- but there are new attorneys representing Rick Gates, Tom Green, for example, is part of the defense team. He and attorneys from his firm, from Green's firm were seen entering the building where the special counsel Robert Mueller works. So, it's raising all -- that happened today. So, it's raising all sorts of questions. Three of the earlier attorneys they're gone, but new attorneys, they're not walking into the building where Mueller works. What does that suggest?

BORGER: Well, the obvious thing that it suggests is that Gates has cut a deal, that Tom Green is there to cut a deal for Gates with the special counsel. It could be -- it could be something as simple as the fact that these attorneys represented him on bail and don't -- on his bail issues and don't represent him anymore, but I think when you see somebody like Tom Green there who is known as a very prominent attorney who cuts deals, you have to believe that that is probably what is going on behind closed doors right now.

CILLIZZA: And Wolf, just quickly, to add to Gloria's point, I think sometimes with all the focus on the Nunes memo, rightfully so, but there's a lot of folks that we lose the bigger picture sometime which Gloria touches on, which is no matter what you think of Devin Nunes, Bob Mueller, you have two Trump aides who have pled guilty to lying to the FBI. George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn. You have two more, Rick Gates and Paul Manafort who are charged with money laundering among other things. So, what's difficult here is this attempt to muddy the waters to use Gloria's right term. It's in some ways, I just wish people would focus on the fact that these people, Mike Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI and is now -- is now helping the Mueller investigation. That's not a media creation, a Democrats creation, a deep state FBI creation, no one compelled Mike Flynn to plead guilty except Mike Flynn because he lied to the FBI.

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And remember, you have the justice -- the Trump Justice Department signing off on continuing with the FISA warrant, continuing to surveil Carter Page, this is the Trump Justice Department, this isn't prior to the election.

BORGER: Well, you know, and at the same time, you have President Trump going to the Greenbrier today talk about talking about how he supports law enforcement. On the other hand, he's fighting law enforcement, tooth and nail on this -- on the release of the Nunes memo. I mean, it is his -- in his interest now in terms of his own prosecution to destabilize law enforcement and to say they're contaminated.

BLITZER: And if Rick Gates flips, you got to wonder what he knows potentially that could be a benefit to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, maybe get a reduced sentenced as part of a plea bargain agreement, but what he knows about some other stuff. Shawn, you worked for the director of national intelligence, you spent a career in the intelligence community, U.S. military, what are the consequences for U.S. intelligence gathering if this memo is released?

TURNER: Yes, you know, Wolf, there's been a lot of discussion about sources and methods and possibly releasing some of the information. I'm actually a little bit less concerned about that than I was just a couple of days ago. I've talked to people who suggested that some of those concerns have been mitigated. There is a greater concern that I have now. You know, one of the interesting things about the FISA process is that it's not only extremely complex when it comes to the details of a FISA warrant, it's also classified. And so, I can see a scenario in which a body of information could be put together in a memo like this, and that information could be released. And through omissions of complimentary or other information, it will be misleading to the public. And I think that's the major concern here, is that the FBI will then not be in a position to come forward and correct that information because it's classified.

[17:45:11] CILLIZZA: Which is, by the way, the point that Chris Wray and Rod Rosenstein have made according to our -- I mean, they made exactly that point that it's exceedingly --

BLITZER: The grave consequences if they release this. All right. Guys, stand by. There's more breaking news we're following, a failed test of a U.S. missile interceptor sparking new political concerns. Will that lden the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:50:06] BLITZER: Tonight, the Trump administration is coping with

both political and military setbacks as it attempt to counter the growing threat posed by the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's aggressive push to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting any part of the United States with nuclear weapons. Let's bring in our own Brian Todd, he's looking -- working on this story, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, we have new information on a divide between key players on President Trump's national security team over whether to launch a pre-emptive first strike on North Korea. This comes as the Pentagon scrambles to asses its missile defences against Kim Jong-un after an interceptor failed a critical test.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: It's a worrisome misfire in the middle of a high-stake standoff with North Korea. The Pentagon today confirming that in a live fire test on Wednesday, similar to this one, an American missile interceptor in Hawaii missed hitting its target. A medium-range intercontinental ballistic missile fired from a plane. The system is designed to protect the U.S. from any missiles launched by Kim Jong- un. U.S. officials say despite the failure, they still learned crucial information about the system. But analysts worry about how North Korea's aggressive young dictator who's rapidly advancing his nuclear missile program might read the failed American test.

FRANK JANNUZI, THE MANSFIELD FOUNDATION: All it does is emboldened them. It just encourages them that as long as they continue to advance their missile program, maybe someday they'll accomplish the ability to evade those defences.

TODD: The failed defensive test comes as sources are telling CNN tonight of a growing division inside the Trump administration about going on offense specifically over whether to hit North Korea with a pre-emptive first strike, trying to get Kim to stop his weapon's build up. Sources familiar with the dynamics say, on one side, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are urging caution, warning the president of the dangers of a first strike.

On the other side, National Security adviser H.R. McMaster and one of his top deputies are insisting the Trump team should at least consider a strike and prepare for one. The man Trump reportedly once wanted to be his ambassador to South Korea, former NSC official Victor Cha had his name pulled in recent days because he warned the President's team. And a first strike on North Korea could lead to a disastrous war.

PETER BECK, ADJUNCT INSTRUCTOR, DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: The conflict and confrontation that he had with the Trump administration underscores that he was not hawkish enough for them, and the fact that he expressed concerns about the (INAUDIBLE) strategy shows just how serious the Trump administration is considering it.

TODD: The apparent choice of Cha had drawn widespread bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. Prior to his name being floated, he spoke often to CNN about the North Korean threat.

VICTOR CHA, FORMER NATIONAL FOREIGN POLICY ADVISOR: A pre-emptive strike is by far the most risky of all the different alternatives we're dealing with this missile threat.

TODD: Cha turned down CNN's recent request for an interview. But in an op-ed published Tuesday in the Washington Post, he again argued that a pre-emptive strike could lead to carnage on the ground, a view at odds with the President and some members of his team who have argued that diplomacy, sanctions, and other measures, simply haven't worked to stir Kim from building his arsenal.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation.

TODD: But tonight, some analysts and generals are echoing Cha's warning that Kim might retaliate if the U.S. launches a strike.

GEN. ROBERT NELLER, MARINE CORPS COMMANDANT: It will be a very, very kinetic, physical, violent fight.

JANNUZI: The potential casualties in the first hours of a conflict could be tens of thousands. And that's a conventional North Korean artillery response. Obviously, a nuclear response, we'd be talking about millions of casualties overnight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another warning from analysts about a bloody nose strike that it would undermine America's crucial alliance with South Korea and could bring China into a conflict. If the Chinese fear that their troublesome ally in Pyongyang is on the verge of callpse, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, you're also learning new details about of some of the things that might have unsettled Victor Cha as he was being prepared to take over as the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. What are you learning?

TODD: That's right, Wolf. A source familiar with the situation told CNN that during their preparations, national security council officials asked Victor Cha if he felt he was prepared to manage the diplomatic efforts that would surround a pre-emptive military strike including the potential evacuation of Americans -- American civilians from Seoul. You hit with that reality, Wolf, that's pretty chilling.

BLITZER: Very chilling indeed. He's no longer considered as the next U.S. ambassador to South Korea. All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting.

Coming up, breaking news: sources say the President believes the controversial GOP memo alleging FBI abuses could help him discredit the entire Russia probe. And he's moving toward releasing it, but the FBI still has, quote, grave concerns of the memo and top White House aides (INAUDIBLE) the president's handpicked FBI Director Christopher Wray, could quit in protest.

[17:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, means to an end, as the President moves closer to releasing a disputed GOP memo, we're told he's admitting to friends that he has an ulterior motive, to discredit the entire Russia investigation. We're learning more about the last- minute manuevers before this bombshell explodes.

Taking on Trump, after the FBI Director's stunning public warning to the president, will Christopher Wray protest the memo's release by quitting his job? That possibility is making White House insiders very nervous tonight.