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President Trump Tweets Criticism of Leadership of FBI Regarding Russia Investigation; House Intelligence Committee to Release Memo Critical of FBI's Russia Investigation. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired February 2, 2018 - 8:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: That's his call.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Former CIA Director James Woolsey, thank you very much for your perspective.
WOOLSEY: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: We're following a lot of news this morning so let's get right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CAMEROTA: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your New Day. It is Friday, February 2nd, 8:00 in the east. Chris is off this morning. John Berman joins me. Just more breaking news.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, big, a lot could happen, and quick.
CAMEROTA: OK, so let's get right to it. Here's the breaking news. President Trump is again accusing the nation's law enforcement leaders of having a pro Democratic bias in this new tweet that he put out an hour ago saying that they are ones politicizing the investigative process rather than partisan lawmakers. A source tells CNN the president is set to approve today the release of that controversial Republican memo alleging surveillance abuses despite the strong objections from his own appointed leaders at the FBI and the Justice Department.
BERMAN: Sources tell CNN that President Trump thinks the memo will discredit the Russia investigation by showing bias in the top ranks of the FBI. White House aides are now worried that the president's new FBI director Christopher Wray could resign as an effect of releasing this memo.
And as a report in "The Washington Post" says, President Trump was convinced the memo needed to go public even before he read it just two days ago.
I want to bring in senior CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd. Phil, first of all, let me read you this most recent statement from the president on the FBI. "The top leadership and investigators at the FBI and Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats against Republicans, something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank and file are great people."
Phil, you spent a lot of time as part of that organization. How do you read that statement?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You've looked at political corruption investigations from the FBI for decades. Just going back a year or two ago you have Republicans saying there's a political process to undermine Hillary Clinton. And she came out, as you know, and publicly said repeatedly, still says today, hey, those pronouncements by Jim Comey right before the election, those are the ones that led to the destruction of my campaign.
So now we have a Republican saying just less than a year and a half later, hey, it's now against the Republicans and the FBI is politicized against us. I guess, John, when you have complaints by Democrats about the FBI, about politicization, and complaints by Republican about the FBI and politicization I guess that's OK because when both sides are complaining, they must be doing their job.
CAMEROTA: I guess so, Phil. But I just want to stick with you for one more second. When he says "Rank and file are great people!" exclamation point, do you think this is starting to have an effect, a demoralizing effect? Or do they just put earmuffs on and going about their work?
MUDD: I think you can see it both ways. They watch this. I guarantee you every FBI field officers, 50 plus of them is watching what the president is saying and looking at the FBI director and saying you've got to get out and speak publicly. The FBI Agents' Association came out within the past 48 hours with a public statement that supported the director. They represent 10,000-plus agents across the country. That said, people doing white collar crime, gang investigations, the president always talks about MS-13, I guarantee you they look at this at 8:00 in the morning, have a cup of coffee, and say I've got stuff to do today. I can't spend 12 hours worrying that the president is attacking the FBI director.
BERMAN: We also note just factually here, the top leadership at the FBI and Justice Department are all Trump appointees. We're talking about Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, Christopher Wray at this point. Is he talking about them? This statement seems to suggest. And Ron Brownstein, I have to say, when I read this, it made me think of something you have been saying very, very clearly here, the president is saying very clearly now. Republican voters need to choose. You need to choose basically right now, are you going to take a stand against the FBI and investigators here or not?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And look, what's striking about these tweets to me, John, is that they not only obviously undermine FBI director Chris Wray, and you do wonder about how he can serve effectively when the president is so conspicuously disregarding his unusually strong and public advice not to do this, but it also undermines Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, because Speaker Ryan has been saying, look, the release of the Nunes memo is about oversight. It's not about weakening Bob Mueller, it's not about weakening the Justice Department. And the president essentially in his own words, both in this tweet and the other this morning, is making it clear that's exactly what it is about in his mind.
[08:05:00]And I think that everything we are seeing, the choices that Speaker Ryan has made, reinforced by Majority Leader McConnell who endorsed this course of action yesterday, are moving to center stage in 2018 this core issue of whether a Republican majority in Congress can be believed or trusted to exert any restraint or oversight on President Trump. In fact they are now locking arms with him in this offensive against the DOJ and FBI. And I think that is a striking identification that Ryan and McConnell have kneeled, have solidified by endorsing this rather extraordinary episode.
CAMEROTA: So, Phil, CNN has been reporting that people inside the White House are worried Chris Wray could resign over this memo. There's no evidence that Chris Wray will resign or that he wants to resign, but what would that do to the FBI?
MUDD: He's got a difficult choice. And I'd characterize that choice as a choice between honor and duty. If you look at this and you look at the president who selected the FBI director as now saying you're responsible for not only a corrupt enterprise but for illegal activities in terms of collecting information against U.S. citizens, an honorable FBI director might say I've got to go.
But a director who responds to duty, and I think that gets to the core of your question, Alisyn, is going to look at this I think and say it's going to get tougher in the coming months. I would guess this spring, at the latest this summer we will have further indictments, final indictments from special counsel Mueller. If there is a vacant seat at the FBI or if Director Wray resigns and the president puts in somebody who is a lapdog, I think the FBI is in much worse condition than if they stay with an honorable and I think decent man, Christopher Wray.
BERMAN: Wray is just one figure really at the center of this whole discussion right now. The other is the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. Jerry Nadler, the ranking member on Judiciary, just talking to you right now, and you can see him very carefully saying what his major concern was with this memo because he's not allowed to say what's in it yet clearly.
But Ron, his biggest concern insofar as he can say it was that this might be used as an excuse to fire Rod Rosenstein, which really would be a major, major development in the Russia investigation. He is the Justice Department official overseeing the whole thing.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. And of course if he was replaced by someone who is more of, quote, a Trump loyalist, all sorts of ways in which that can impinge on the investigation, including there is no guarantee, as many legal scholars have been pointing out under the current statute, that any report that the special counsel produces will be released to the public. That would be the call of the Justice Department overseeing them. So you would have the possibility of whatever is found not being shared with the public.
But I think where the rubber meets the road here politically is with the House because the question has been from the start, would there be any restraint, any limits on the president's willingness to delegitimize these institutions that he views as a threat to him? Early in the presidency I think there was more pushback from Republicans in Congress. You still get noises from some Republican senators about firing Bob Mueller would be a catastrophic event in his presidency.
[08:10:00] But on a day-to-day basis and with a decision like this to release this memo over the objections of so many at the FBI and the intelligence community, the House Republican majority in particular is sending him a very different signal, that they will be there arm in arm no matter how far he goes.
And that I think is putting them out on a limb for 2018. You've got to think this issue of whether they are willing to exert any restraint or oversight on him just by each action most closer to center stage for the 2018 election.
CAMEROTA: Phil, isn't it also interesting that the president seems to be suggesting that Bob Mueller's investigation is tainted, that somehow Rod Rosenstein is tainted, he oversees it, that Bob Mueller is tainted, when in fact we know nothing about what's happening with Bob Mueller's investigation. All we know is that two people have pled guilty. There are two indictments. It has been virtually leak-proof. How can the president or any of his allies know what's happening in that investigation that's on going?
MUDD: I don't think they do know what's happening. Let me give you one example. There's this myth out there, and I do believe it is a myth, that the Steele memo, that is that memo of information about Donald Trump that came from that --
CAMEROTA: The dossier.
MUDD: The dossier, that that's somehow foundational in the FBI case. Let me ask you a question, because that's become sort of fact in Washington. Has any FBI official or any Department of Justice official, the people responsible for the investigation, any of them ever said that not only is the Steele memo critical, is it even a basic piece of the investigation? I doubt it is. This is all a myth created by people who are not, I think, Alisyn, going to undermine the investigation.
And this is where Ron's point is critical. When there are further indictments, the question is going to be is this used to undermine the indictments and do House Republicans stand by the president as he says, I will not accept the findings of the Mueller investigation? I think that's where we're headed here.
BERMAN: We do know, CNN has been reporting for months, maybe even more than a year at this point, that the dossier was used to get the FISA warrant -- a portion. It was part of it. Whether or not it was crucial or integral, who knows about that.
Actually, Ron, this gets to my question about what we're also hearing from the White House overnight, there's apparently concern from some advisers to the president that when this memo goes public, it will be a dud, that it will not excite people as much as we've heard, Republicans say it's bigger than Watergate, the planets will realign, the sky will fall. It may not prove any of those things.
BROWNSTEIN: First of all, we have not seen the memo from Nunes, so we don't know. But certainly the arguments, the tea leaves have been that essentially that that's what it alleges, that the dossier was a centerpiece of the initial surveillance on Carter Page. And obviously the pushback from the FBI and others is that is omitting a lot of other evidence that was used in that process.
But yes, first of all, even if the surveillance on Page is based on the memo, it's hard to see how -- on the dossier, it's hard to see how that undermines the entire investigation. Even if you grant the premise, why does that obviate the other concerns that have been raised, particularly about potential obstruction of justice? Even if you close the circuit, it's not clear that a light goes on. So I find the whole thing overstated to begin with.
Look, it is going to be a talking point. And in many ways as we've talked about before, the communication strategy of the Trump administration has been based more about giving their base talking points than about persuading the vast middle of the electorate. So it will be something that FOX and talk radio will have to talk about. But whether it is something that persuades a lot of other Americans that this investigation is illegitimate, I think that is a much bigger reach.
And by the way, it may put even put I think Devin Nunes' district in play. It has not been so far, but it is not such an overwhelming Republican place in the central valley of California, San Joaquin Valley, that you could not imagine that this creating Democratic interest and making a serious run at him because he has taken the Republican Party out on a very long limb here.
CAMEROTA: That's an interesting wrinkle. Ron Brownstein, Phil Mudd, thank you for your expertise. Great to talk to you.
BERMAN: So by blasting top investigators and encouraging the release of that Republican memo, is President Trump causing lasting damage to law enforcement institutions? David Axelrod joins us next.
[08:15:50] BERMAN: So new this morning, President Trump accusing the nation's law enforcement leaders of politicizing the investigative process and being biased in favor of Democrats.
Now you will remember the actual leaders of the FBI and Justice Department were appointed by -- wait for it -- President Trump.
The new attack comes amid the controversy surrounding the release of this classified Republican memo. Sources tell CNN that he thinks the memo will undermine the Russia investigation.
Joining us now to discuss, David Axelrod, CNN senior political commentator, former senior adviser to President Obama. And it is very interesting, David, as we wake up this morning, we see
the president framing this discussion now saying that the leaders of the Justice Department and the FBI are political.
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. You know, I think, first of all, we should step back and sort of find the silver lining in all of this, and that is that these institutions actually are doing what they should be doing. These people that the president appointed, Christopher Wray, The Justice Department official who spoke out, apparently the DNI, Dan Coats, a former Republican senator, all protested the release of this memo.
The FBI suggests under Director Wray that it was misleading. And, you know, what is extraordinary is that he chooses to take the advice of Director Hannity over his own appointees and release this memo. And he -- the purpose of it is clear which is to try and muddy up this investigation, perhaps to give him a pretext for not talking to director -- to Special Counsel Mueller.
BERMAN: The investigator.
AXELROD: Perhaps to muddy the result of the -- perhaps to get rid of Rosenstein, so he can circumscribe the investigation. But this is a thoroughly political exercise and that is not a silver lining. That is a very menacing cloud.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And apparently the president from our reporting is also taking the advice of John Kelly, his chief of staff, who has not been swayed by these meetings. These are people who, as you know, Christopher Wray went over to the White House to make a personal appeal. There were five FBI officials that went over to talk to John Kelly to make a personal appeal to not release this memo. And John Kelly is on the side of the president and feels that it should come out.
AXELROD: Yes. I find that really dismaying. But look, I think survival in this White House is all about how you relate to this president and manage him. It is clear from the beginning -- I mean, this amplifies a theme that the president has been on from the beginning of this investigation, that it was politically motivated. He was going to release this memo.
I think Kelly made a judgment that I'm going to get on the right side of the president on this one even if I have to get on the wrong side of my responsibilities.
BERMAN: And look --
AXELROD: The Constitution, the law, to the others in this administration.
BERMAN: "The Washington Post" is in fact reporting this morning that the president made the decision to release the memo long before he even read it. Only after -- I mean, immediately after having a conversation with two members of Congress who were -- AXELROD: I'll tell you the other thing that's kind of extraordinary
here and you heard it from Republican members of the Senate. This has been made to be a partisan affair, and I think that there is a desire to turn it into a partisan fight. But Republicans in the Senate asked to see this memo, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Burr, and was refused.
They were all refused. And they've been complaining about that, the leadership of the Senate has complained about that. So this isn't just a partisan issue. You've got Trump appointees, Republicans in the Senate, versus the -- Devin Nunes and the House Intelligence Republicans.
CAMEROTA: People were wondering -- have been wondering what position Paul Ryan would take on this. And we have a little bit of breaking news on this. It's just been reported that he says just this morning that he favors releasing the Democratic rebuttal to it as well as the Nunes memo. But --
AXELROD: That is late-breaking news because that hasn't been his position.
BERMAN: But let me just say one thing, what we don't know, because I don't think it's stated here clearly is, does he favor releasing them at the same time? Because that's the issue here. The issue isn't, will the Democratic memo come out eventually?
BERMAN: It's been that Speaker Ryan was slow-walking the release of the Democratic memo.
AXELROD: Listen, you know --
BERMAN: And that I don't know.
[08:20:02] AXELROD: I think Paul Ryan is going to look back at this episode with real, real regret. I mean he is selling his own reputation here. The institutional damage that is being done by this episode is going to be felt for a long time.
CAMEROTA: Meaning what? That you think that he should be on the side of the FBI and the Department of Justice over the president, and he's not done that?
AXELROD: Yes, I mean, I think he should be on the side of the process of the institution. He has responsibilities other than as a political leader aligned with the president. And here he is throwing out, you know, precedent for time immemorial and tearing this institution asunder to service his political scheme.
BERMAN: So let me just raise one issue that people defending the release of this bring up. What about the Pentagon papers? Right? You have the left cheering the release of those way back when, but now people saying that there's something wrong with the Republican memo.
AXELROD: The Pentagon papers was an authoritative document that went back for 10 years. It wasn't drafted for a political purpose.
AXELROD: This is a memo that was selectively drafted to create an argument for the president to make. If that weren't the case and if transparency was the goal here, then they would release the Democratic memo as well.
CAMEROTA: Here is how Donald Trump felt about releasing this torture report in 2014 that the Senate Intel Committee wanted to have out. He felt quite differently then.
CAMEROTA: Let me read it, his tweet then. "The CIA report should not be released. Puts our agents and military overseas in danger, a propaganda tool for our enemies." It's always interesting to see how different he felt then --
AXELROD: It's fair to say the president has never been burdened by consistency and this is another example of it.
BERMAN: And look, I think you're right there. And you brought it from the beginning here, that the bigger picture here ultimately seems to be a concerted strategy from the president, his lawyers and maybe with Republican cover in the House now to not testify before Robert Mueller, and after that when the Mueller report comes out to say this whole thing was tainted from the beginning.
AXELROD: I had a conversation with Senator Mark Warner who's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee for my "Axe Files" podcast that's going to be released this morning. And he said essentially these are not the actions of someone who has nothing to fear. And I think in a strange way, yes, I understand the strategy of politicizing this, but the president is also upping the ante here and creating more suspicion that he is fearful of this investigation and that he does have something to hide.
CAMEROTA: And that leads us to Whoopi Goldberg.
BERMAN: I read the connection --
AXELROD: As it always does.
CAMEROTA: That's a natural segue.
AXELROD: Yes. Exactly. Nicely done. You must be a television professional.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I am. So she's your guest on the "Axe Files."
CAMEROTA: It'll be airing tomorrow night. And she vociferously confronted Donald Trump with all the birtherism that he was propagating during --
CAMEROTA: Obviously when President Obama was in office. So let's go back and well, you asked her about this. Let's watch this moment that you asked her about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTRESS AND HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": The nonsense about, you know, whether Barack Obama was an American citizen.
AXELROD: Yes. You actually had a pretty sharp confrontation with him about this on "The View" in 2011.
GOLDBERG: Yes. Yes.
I think that's the biggest pile of dog mess I've heard in ages. A white president asked to be shown the birth certificate.
TRUMP: Everybody does.
GOLDBERG: When they become the president of the United States, you know that he's American.
TRUMP: Let him show --
AXELROD: Why did that offend you so much?
GOLDBERG: Because I know he went to school and I know he knows that Hawaii is part of the United States, and I know that the real bottom line of that conversation was how can he be our president?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: Did she say what their relationship is now?
AXELROD: Well, she said she's known him for a long time. They had a cordial relationship but she left no doubt -- she said he's never been any different than he is right now. So it was an interesting conversation. She does have insights into him, having known him as a New Yorker, as a fellow performer. They were in "The Little Rascals" movie together back in the '90s when he played Waldo's dad and she was Buckwheat's mom.
CAMEROTA: Oh my --
AXELROD: So they go back a while.
CAMEROTA: That's a trivial pursuit answer right there.
AXELROD: It is. It is. That's a little party parlor trick for you.
CAMEROTA: Thank you.
BERMAN: I can't beat that right there. Fascinating. AXELROD: Good luck on Sunday.
BERMAN: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
BERMAN: Be sure to watch David's interview with Whoopi Goldberg on the "AXE FILES" tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. right here on CNN.
CAMEROTA: Thanks, David.
AXELROD: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: All right. So if that controversial GOP memo is released today, can the president's handpicked FBI director weather the storm? What will he do? That's next.
[08:28:39] CAMEROTA: President Trump accusing the top law enforcement leaders of being biased in a tweet this morning saying, quote, "The top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans, something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank-and-file are great people," exclamation point.
BERMAN: Sources say the president plans to release this Republican memo today despite stark warnings from his top law enforcement officials.
Joining us now is CNN national commentator, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, former official at the FBI as well, Mike Rogers.
Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Chairman.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Thanks.
BERMAN: So put yourself back in the FBI. You know, if you're in the FBI leadership. If you're Christopher Wray, you wake up this morning and you read that statement from President Trump that says, top leaders at the FBI and Justice have politicized things in favor of Democrats, what's going through your head?
ROGERS: Well, I mean, certainly not a great day. And if something bad happened before and it deserves to be looked at, certainly the IG, the Department of Justice inspector general, is looking at some of those issues, then that's what we ought to say. To say that the current leadership -- remember the leadership in the FBI turns over, you know, fairly significantly. It's an upper-out kind of an organization when you get into the leadership level of the bureau.