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Interview With Texas Congressman Will Hurd; Republicans Release Controversial Memo on FBI; Dow Plummets; New U.S. Nuclear Threat Review Warns of Russia Doomsday Torpedo. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Republican Senator John McCain's warning that the memo is a gift to Vladimir Putin.

And Dow down. The stock index nosedives nearly 700 points, the worst one-day loss since the president took office. Is the boom that Mr. Trump claimed credit for over?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We are following breaking news on President Trump's decision to defy America's law enforcements agencies and approve the release of a GOP memo rejected by critics as dangerous and misleading.

There is a lot to dissect on the memo's disputed allegations of bias in the Russia probe.

But, tonight, the most urgent question is, what will the president do next? He's not ruling out the possibility he might fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and use the memo to justify it. Democrats are warning that firing Rosenstein or the special counsel, Robert Mueller, would create a constitutional crisis.

I will talk with a Republican on the House Intelligence Committee that is at the center of all of this, Congressman Will Hurd. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, break this memo down for us.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This memo alleges of surveillance powers by the FBI, but it is not clear what is contained in these four pages actually backs it up.

In fact, whether inadvertently or not, the memo also indicates that the counterintelligence investigation involving the Trump campaign and Russia began months before this warrant was sought on Carter Page and based on intelligence other than this now infamous dossier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it is terrible.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, the president and Republicans leveling a new broadside at the FBI with a four-Page memo alleging the bureau abused its surveillance authority in seeking a warrant to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page during the 2016 election.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: It has been a tough fight.

SCIUTTO: The disputed memo authored by the staff of House Intel Chairman Devon Nunes claims that former FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the committee the Page warrant would not have been sought by the FBI without a dossier compiled on President Trump's possible connections to Russia.

Three Democratic members of the committee, however, dispute that account, telling CNN that Nunes -- quote -- "mischaracterizes" what McCabe said.

The memo reveals that the warrant to monitor Page was approved and renewed by the court three separate times. The former Republican chair of the Intel Committee, Mike Rogers, says that would not happen without other U.S. intelligence to backup the application.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If this is all they used, well, the judge ought to get in trouble too. And I doubt that happened. I think there is a lot more information that supplanted of the information that they provided. In addition, they went through separate renewals. And each renewal, according to the law, you actually have to reconfirm probable cause, meaning you had to get something off of that wire.

SCIUTTO: The memo also alleges that the FBI and Justice Department did not inform the FISA court that former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who compiled the dossier, was funded by the Democratic Party.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said that it is -- quote -- "not accurate" that the secret court was unaware of Steele's political motivations. He claims the court knew of -- quote -- "a likely political motivation" behind Steele.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: What it ended up delivering is criticism of a single FISA application involving Carter Page and its renewals that cherry-picks information that does not tell the reader the whole of the application and is, as the DOJ and FBI have said, deeply misleading and factually inaccurate.

SCIUTTO: While the memo attempts to portray the FBI as relying on outside information to launch the Russia investigation, it notes that a counterintelligence investigation was actually opened months before the Page application based on a stream of intelligence separate from the dossier.

This includes information from the Australian government, which learned that another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had been offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton from an individual with ties to the Russian government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Today, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, addressed FBI employees in an internal video, something of a bucking them up kind of message here, saying it is been tough times and the last few days have only made it worst.

He went onto say, Wolf: "The American people read the newspaper and watch TV, but your work is all that matters. Actions speak louder than words."

And that's key here, because not just Nunes, but the president himself, lobbing broadsides not just at individuals in the FBI, but really the organization at times, saying that the FBI behaved here in a way that was not honorable and might have been illegal.

[18:05:08]

BLITZER: Amazing stuff that is going on. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

Let's go to White House right now for President Trump's take on the memo and the concerns he may use to fire the deputy attorney general.

Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

What are we hearing, Jim, from the president?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump continued his verbal attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI today. He seized on the Nunes memo as proof that he believes the Russia is being politicized.

Here is what he told reporters earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's terrible, you want to know the truth. I think it's a disgrace. What's going on in this country, I think it's a disgrace.

The memo was sent to Congress. It was declassified. Congress will do whatever they're going to do, but I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country. And when you look at that, and you see that and so many other things, what is going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the concern is up on Capitol Hill that the president will use the Nunes memo as a way to fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who obviously has been the subject of the president's criticism for some time now. Here is what the president said when he was asked about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Are you likely to fire Rod Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: You figure that one out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, we are told, Wolf, we were just told in the last hour or so by a White House official that despite the president saying that in the Oval Office earlier today that there is for conversation about or consideration of firing Rod Rosenstein.

But, obviously, that does not comport with the attitude and the content of what the president told reporters earlier today. He made it very clear when he was asked a couple of times by reporters that he does not have confidence in the deputy attorney general. He did not answer the questions when he was asked if he had confidence in the deputy attorney general.

He simply offered that very abrupt response, which obviously has not to go over very well at the Justice Department and the FBI, which has been hearing and been on the receiving ends of these verbal assaults from the president and the White House all week long -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, "You figure that one out," the president said, as you point out, when he was asked if he has confidence in Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

Jim Acosta, at the White House, thanks very much.

From the White House, let's head over to Capitol Hill. The memo's release is making the partisan divide in Congress even worst.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.

Manu, you have been talking to lawmakers on both sides. What are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a sharp partisan divide in the House over that Nunes memo that was drafted in the House Intelligence Committee room right behind me.

Republicans in the House really are rallying behind -- for the most part behind Devin Nunes, believing he took the right steps and believing this sheds light on what they believe are abuses of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Speaker Paul Ryan has been behind Nunes all the way fighting back attempts by the Justice Department and the FBI over the last several weeks to rein Nunes in.

Democrats of course on the other side reigning some serious and profound concerns about a memo they believe is misleading and in their view reckless.

Now, on the Republican side, it has been much different. On the Republican side in the Senate, there has been a more muted response. Republicans have either been sharply critical, like John McCain earlier today saying that it is actually doing Putin's bidding. People like Susan Collins, a moderate who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying this is not the way you deal with bipartisan issues within the Intelligence Committee.

And others who are being silent and not raising any concerns, they're staying out of the line of fire at all, including the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, who told me today he would not have any comment on this issue.

I did catch up with one of the president's closest allies in the Senate, Orrin Hatch, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, someone that seems uncomfortable about the attacks the president is leveling against the FBI and the Justice Department, but did support the memo's release.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I'm always uncomfortable with attacks on the FBI and other law enforcement officials.

However, there have been some pretty amazing things done by some within the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, that I guess they thought that Trump would never get elected.

But I think it is part of our system to make sure that we open up the doors to these things and let people know really what is going on and whether people have been fair or not.

RAJU: And Rod Rosenstein, do you have conference in him as the deputy attorney general or do you think he made need to step aside?

HATCH: I do have confidence in him. I think he's an honest man. It is a very tough position. No matter what you do, you're going to be criticized. I think he's an honest person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So, Wolf, I went onto to ask Hatch whether or not the president should fire Rod Rosenstein.

[18:10:00]

He said only if Rosenstein becomes really too -- the controversy just engulfs Rosenstein and he cannot move forward on the investigation. Perhaps he will need to step aside.

But he did voice the confidence to Rod Rosenstein, something that the president himself was unable to do earlier today, Wolf.

BLITZER: There is a stunning lack of support for the deputy attorney general, whom he appointed. He nominated him himself. Thanks very much, Manu.

One quick question before I let you go. Will the Democrats' memo end up being released as well?

RAJU: It really depends on what the House Republicans are going to do.

Speaker Paul Ryan did announce his support for releasing the memo. Other Republicans have supported releasing the Democratic memo. But again the question will be, what does the president do after it goes to the White House, assuming the House Intelligence Committee votes to release it?

The president will have five days to object or allow its release. If he objects to its release, then the full House can vote to override him. This is a Republican-controlled House. It is really uncertain how it is going to happen. But the first step, Wolf, is for the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, to schedule a vote to release the Democratic memo.

And he has not scheduled a vote as of now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill. Manu, thank you very, very much.

How are the lawmakers reacting to all of this?

Let's bring in Congressman Will Hurd, Republican of Texas. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: Thank you, Wolf. It's always a pleasure to be on.

BLITZER: Are you comfortable with the way of the United States is portraying the FBI and the Justice Department? You saw his tweet this morning saying: "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."

Does that make you comfortable?

HURD: Well, I don't have any evidence to suggest that this was politicized on purpose. I do have questions that were outlined in the memo about how the FBI and DOJ provide information at the FISA court.

But I do believe that also in that tweet President Trump mentioned that he supports the rank and file of men and women of the FBI. To me, this memo was not about attacking the Mueller investigation. The Mueller investigation should be allowed to continue. Every stone, Bob Mueller should be able to follow every stone, follow every lead to make sure that we understand what the Russians tried to do in our elections. And this also does not repudiate the rank and file member of the FBI. Wolf, as you know, I spent almost a decade as an uncover officer at the CIA. I served shoulder to shoulder with some real patriots in the FBI.

And our country is a lot safer because of them. But this ultimately for me...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That is why I was surprised. Because I know you, Congressman.

I know you served as a clandestine officer in the CIA. You understand the importance of the U.S. intelligence community in protecting America's national security. So, when the Justice Department and the FBI, they say releasing this memo would be extraordinarily reckless, that it could undermine sources and methods, that it could weakened America's ability to get cooperation from friendly foreign governments, friendly foreign intelligence services, and they write a formal letter to the Congress asking them, don't do this, you are comfortable with that?

HURD: I am because I have spent most of my adult life determining the difference between intelligence and information.

And ultimately in this four-page memo, there was no information that has not already been out for public consumption. All of this information has been talked about within the press. It has been talked about by others in government.

I am sure you read the memo, Wolf. The only thing that may have been new was that a specific newspaper article was used in corroboration for one of the FISA applications.

BLITZER: All right, so if you don't think that there was any new information released in this, why did you vote to block the release of the Democratic memo?

HURD: Right.

Because there were some references to source information for ongoing operations.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But let me just stop you for a second, Congressman. Both of these memos had to be reviewed by the president of the United States and his national security team. Both of them had five days to be reviewed by the president.

You only sent over the Republican majority memo to the president. You failed over to send over the Democratic memo. Why?

HURD: Because, very simply, there was no information that was going to impact national security. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you were not sure about that. You didn't know that on the Republican memo. You were worried that there might have to be some redacted portions of that memo. You wanted to see what the director of national intelligence would do, presumably wanted to see what the president would do.

HURD: No, we were following the process.

(CROSSTALK)

[18:15:01]

BLITZER: Well, why didn't you follow that process and release the memos simultaneously, which has been the practice of the House Intelligence Committee for 30 or 40 years?

HURD: Because there was one memo was ready to go, and this other one is not.

But, hopefully, as potentially as early as Monday, we will see -- we will move forward on the Dem memo as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But Adam Schiff says his memo, his memo, the minority memo, was ready to go to the White House, just like the Republican memo.

HURD: I would disagree with that characterization, because, again, in my experience, there was a few points that actually would reveal ongoing operations that would have impact on intelligence equities.

BLITZER: You make a fair point -- if that's true.

But let me point out, what would have been the big deal, Congressman, if you have waited a week, cleaned up, scrubbed the memo, sent them both over simultaneously to the White House, and let them both of them be released at the same time?

Why did you have to get this memo out today and then maybe or maybe not the Democratic memo would eventually be released a week from now, two weeks from now , or maybe never?

HURD: I don't think it's a few weeks from now or not. The Democratic memo is going to be released.

I also don't believe there is anything in this Republican memo that is explosive.

BLITZER: Well, the president says it is a disgrace. The president says it's awful. He says it does damage to the United States. You heard the president, what he said in the Oval Office this morning.

(CROSSTALK)

HURD: Well, that's his opinion.

And I know many of my other colleagues. You know, I am not shocked that members of Congress and overexaggerate.

But, for me, this is about being focused on what kind of information can be presented at a Title III court in order to do something as extraordinary as get a warrant to do a telephone tap or something like that to an American citizen.

And, for me, my responsibility as a representative is to represent the people that sent me up here to Washington, D.C. And it's never -- doing that oversight function, we have to do it even if it is an inopportune political time.

BLITZER: Once again, let me remind our viewers, you were a clandestine CIA officer.

HURD: I was.

BLITZER: You understand the real-world impacts of releasing classified information.

I guess a lot of people are wondering whether the Republican majority in the House of Representatives is throwing the intelligence community under the bus.

HURD: I don't believe that at all.

I think the intelligence community and federal law enforcement has to be held to a high standard. Every T has to be crossed. Every I has to be dotted.

And so I am a strong supporter of the intelligence community and federal law enforcement. But nobody is above oversight. Nobody is above the law. And we have to make sure that we are holding our leaders accountable to these issues.

And this is where I would agree with the gentleman from Arizona. I have a little different take on it, though. We are allowing the Russians to win. The Russians' involvement in our elections was to erode trust in our democratic institutions.

And when the press criticizes Congress for providing transparency on what's happening with inside the government, when Republicans and Democrats can't agree on things because it was originated from the other side, when there is this lack of trust between the executive branch and the legislative branch, it creates problems.

And it allows this erosion of trust. And the only way we're going to get that back is to try to work together, to be thoughtful and to make sure that we are providing as much transparency as possible.

BLITZER: So, clearly, you totally disagree with the Republican who is the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, who begged the White House, don't do this. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who is a Republican, he also begged the White House, don't do this. The FBI sent a -- made a public statement, pretty extraordinary statement, saying, "As expressed during our initial review, we have grave" -- they used the word grave -- "grave concerns about material emissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

Have you read all of the supporting information, the transcripts of the interviews, and gone through the basic raw intelligence that created this memo?

HURD: I have been through a lot of it. I have not been through all of it.

I have participated in interviews asking people that were involved in all of this and producing it, asking them questions about the use of this information.

So I feel comfortable that I have enough -- a good enough understanding of what's going on to make the decisions that I did make.

And, look, you allude to the leadership of the FBI and DOJ. I appreciate their perspective. I think they also don't want Congress exercising an aggressive oversight and informing function over their activities.

[18:20:11]

But it is our responsibility to do that. The checks and balances of our government work because we are willing to execute them.

BLITZER: Congressman, one last question. And you have been generous with your time.

This is the first time they have really gone public and explained, which is normally very classified information, how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court works, how it operates, what is needed to get a surveillance warrant on an American citizen here in the United States.

All of that has always been, and as you well know this, as a former CIA official, all of that has been among the most closely held information.

Bottom line, are you comfortable that this information has now been made public?

HURD: I am because a lot of the process that goes into a FISA court or a Title III court is open. It is out there in how that process is supposed to work.

Standards of evidence is out there. What constitutes intelligence vs. information, that information is out there.

What really is held is when the actual data that is used for those types of applications. And, again, in this case, there was nothing in this four-page memo that had not gotten out in some form or fashion into the press and into the public domain.

BLITZER: Congressman Will Hurd, thanks once again for your time.

I'm still not -- I still don't understand why you could not release both the majority and minority memos, send them over to the White House at the same time. But that's something you are going to have to live with right now.

And we will see what happens to that Democratic minority version, whenever the president approves it. He has got to sign off on it right now. And we will see if he does, because it clearly undermines a lot of what the majority, your version, the Republican version, has concluded.

But we will see what they do.

HURD: That's your assumption about what's in the memo.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, that's what Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on your committee, says.

He and Trey Gowdy are the only two members of your committee who have had access to all of the information. They have gone through it all point by point by point. Unfortunately, the other members, like you, have not been allowed to go through.

HURD: Yes, but, also, Wolf, we have access to the people that created those documents and been able to make that assumption.

I don't have to -- and I also rely on my experience and background to make these decisions. And when the Democratic memo comes out, you all can be the judge about whether there was inaccuracies in the Republican memo.

BLITZER: And we will see, once that Democratic memo is released, if it's released, we will see what they have. That's only fair to take a look. And we will see.

And as you correctly point out, Putin and the Russians, they are very happy right now seeing the dissent that they have helped create by their meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

Congressman Will Hurd, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, you have got a tough job up there. Thanks so much for joining us.

HURD: Have a good weekend, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, you too. Thank you.

Just ahead, we will get more reaction on the breaking news on the release of this very controversial memo. Will it impact the overall Russia investigation in any significant way? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:27:58]

BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the White House is trying to downplay fears that the president might fire the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and use the disputed memo Mr. Trump declassified to justify the move. But the president isn't ruling out the possibility.

We're following the fallout on the memo and concerns about what happens next.

Right now, we are joined my our former Congressman Dan Glickman. He served as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. And CNN political commentator, veteran journalist and author Carl Bernstein.

Dan, the memo has a lot of political implications. The content is now out there. Is there a big revelation here?

DAN GLICKMAN (D), FORMER U.S. AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I don't think so, not what I have seen so far.

But, unfortunately, the general culture of Congress, and particularly the House, makes every issue one of a gigantic war. So, it happens to be the intelligence issues right now, but almost everything they are dealing with has come to this kind of giant conflict.

And, unfortunately, the days of bipartisanship in intelligence, when people would work together, are no longer here, because they're really not there on almost every issue that the Congress and the especially the House is dealing with.

So I am not surprised that this has become such a gigantic issue, because it is systematic of almost everything that's happening in the U.S. Congress today.

BLITZER: Well, it's so sad, having covered the Senate and House Intelligence Committees for many years, to see this explosion of partisanship, especially in the House side -- Senate side, not so much.

Let me get Carl to weigh in.

Carl, what do you think?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is more than simply about partisanship.

This is about one party putting forth a fig leaf that enables a president of the United States to exhibit a degree of authoritarianism and demagoguery that we have never seen from a president of the United States.

The only thing comparable we have seen has been from a senator, Joe McCarthy, in the darkest days of attacks on the institutions of democracy in this country. And in those days, it was a senator, not the president.

And it was a senator who was eventually stopped by being censored -- censured by Republicans and Democrats who said, we cannot have our institutions smeared in this way.

We now have a president of the United States who has demeaned and undermined and tried to obstruct this investigation into what the Russians did at every turn and every opportunity, and he's being enabled by the Republicans in the House and the Senate.

[18:30:24] BLITZER: Do you agree with that?

GLICKMAN: I generally agree. But I tell you, somebody has forgotten that Article I is the Congress, the Founding Fathers deliberately placed the Congress -- I wouldn't say first among equals, but they put the executive branch as second.

And the Congress has to act like it's its own body, and it's equal to the president and not an enabler and not obsequious to the president. And you know, there are good people in both parties who understand this. But right now, I don't think people really get the fact that the Article I institution, the Congress needs to act like it, needs to be able to speak truth to power.

BLITZER: Carl, what will this mean for the overall Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election? Will it have any impact on that?

BERNSTEIN: The president has made clear that, above all other things in the one year of his presidency, he seeks to do one thing: to make the Mueller investigation, the Russian investigation going away, to go away.

We know from those closest to him that he's determined to do that, that this memo and its release and its conduct around it is part of that effort to undermine and make the Mueller investigation go away. He's thinking about doing it by firing Rod Rosenstein. We know that from those close to the president. We know also he's discussed the possibility of pardons as a means mean of making this investigation going away.

He is holding himself unaccountable to the law. This is very different than Watergate and more dangerous in many ways. Because in Watergate, the Republicans were the heroes who said, "No one in this country is above the law, including the president of the United States."

And we see no similar commitment to the rule of law or the accountability of the president by the present Republican majority and particularly by Speaker Ryan and the leader in the Senate, Mr. McConnell.

This is really unprecedented territory and dangerous to our institution and beyond anything we have seen in the presidency, certainly in modern era.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that?

GLICKMAN: Well, yes. I think Congress needs to act like it was what intended to act. Which meant it's not supine to the president; it's equal to the president. And it can't enable the president. And it's tough to do that, especially if you're in the same party as the president. But great leaders, that's what people elect people to Congress for.

The other point I would make is that the intelligence community is so important worldwide. You had discussion earlier about North Korea and what's happening and they have missiles, the ability to land in the United States. People have to trust the intelligence community knows what it's doing. And this does demean public trust in the intelligence community. That really does worry me.

BLITZER: That's precisely what the Russians were seeking to do, if you believe the intelligence community's assessment of why they interfered in the U.S. presidential election.

Dan Glickman, Carl Bernstein, guys, thank you very, very much.

Just ahead, so what message is President Trump sending after declassifying the memo? We're talking about the next move, his cryptic response to a question -- listen to this -- about the deputy attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you likely to fire Rosenstein?

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You figure that one out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:38:26] BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on the disputed GOP memo alleging FBI bias in the Russia investigation and the backlash which is huge.

Tonight, we're told that the FBI director, Christopher Wray, put out a video to try to rally the rank and file over at the FBI after the president ignored his protests and declassified the memo.

Wray and other critics, they're warning that the memo is partisan, it's a misleading document that leaves out crucial facts.

Let's get to our analysts to assess. And Asha, you're our CNN national security and legal analyst. You're a former FBI agent. There's a lot of political ramification from the release of this memo. But what about the actual content? What's your analysis?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think I see three things here. The first is that this -- this memo does not make a valid legal claim. But the second is that it's actually quite damning to the president. And third, I think it can potentially have some consequences for our intelligence capabilities.

BLITZER: Why is it damning to the president?

RANGAPPA: And I can go through all -- it's damning to the president because, basically, you have someone who is on the FBI's radar back in 2013, who the FBI knew was being targeted by a foreign intelligence service to be recruited as a spy.

Now we know that after he came off of the campaign, he was actively and knowingly working on behalf of the Russian intelligence for up to a year, because we know that this FISA was renewed three times. That's 90 days from the initial granting. So basically for one full year.

[18:40:06] This means that the Trump campaign had a spy on their staff. This is in addition to Paul Manafort, whom we know separately has been charged with being a foreign agent; separate from Michael Flynn, who we know has also lied about being a foreign agent; and George Papadopoulos, who was also contacted by the Russians and is now working with Mueller.

This is a big problem for the Trump campaign, and I quite frankly can't believe that they would disclose that this FISA was extended three times incredibly incredibly -- again, just very damning to what was -- what this person specifically was up to; and I think it raises questions on what he was doing during his time in the campaign.

BLITZER: But Asha, let me press you on that, because in fairness to Carter Page, this foreign policy aide during the Trump campaign, as the memo released by the Republicans today showed, he's been under investigation since 2013. But as far as we know so far, unlike the others, he hasn't been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.

RANGAPPA: Well, that's right, Wolf. So actually, when you get a FISA warrant, you're not looking for evidence of a crime. In fact, that's why there's a separate procedure to do electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence versus getting electronic surveillance for a crime. That's called Title 3.

You have this whole other process, because the whole point is you're not looking for evidence of a crime. You're looking to see what a foreign intelligence service is up to and how this person might be playing a role in their activities.

Actually, having done these FISA warrants and counterintelligence investigations, very few of these actually ever see the inside of a courtroom. The key is to keep it secret so you don't know what your adversary is up to. And that way you can run operations. You can neutralize them. You can recruit sources that they are trying to run. It's all a spy versus spy game. I am not surprised at all that he was never charged with a crime. That wouldn't have been the point in getting the warrant.

BLITZER: And that's why, Ryan, so many in the U.S. intelligence community, the law enforcement right now are so upset, including the director of the FBI, the deputy attorney general, leaders in the intelligence community, because you're not supposed to talk openly about how this foreign intelligence surveillance court works and how they're trying to find out, quote, "spies" and what they're doing. And all of a sudden, this memo today released a lot of that sensitive information.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely, a lost in all of this. As a reporter who's covered these issues before, this memo is fascinating to me, because you get some granular detail about how the process works.

Now, I understand why government officials don't want that. So that's a just a sort of -- you know, this is obviously a huge partisan football. It's being used for certain propaganda purposes.

But there is an element here of just opening up a process that the American public, frankly, rarely gets a glimpse into: how these -- how these warrants are presented to the court, what the oversight is.

Now, if Republicans truly cared about FISA reform, you might see some actual proposals put on the table to say, OK, how can we prevent any kind of American citizens being targeted based on phony evidence before the court? You know, there are ideas out there from the Obama administration. You could have an advocate for someone who's targeted which currently doesn't exist on the court. I haven't seen any of that put forward by the people who are pushing this memo. But that is a debate worth having in terms of FISA reform.

BLITZER: Is there going to be a serious setback for U.S. intelligence gathering, cooperation with friendly foreign intelligence services; maybe even a loss of some sensitive sources and methods as a result of the release of this memo?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I definitely think so. And I think at a minimum, Putin's doing a victory lap right now. He's putting his feet up, and he's saying, "I no longer have to extend resources trying to sow divisions in the United States, undermine U.S. institutions. President Trump is doing that for me."

Now, President Trump has been a tool for Putin for months now. He's been polarizing the country and attacking the credibility of the FBI and DOJ.

But one important point to keep in mind here is, if you're a foreign intel partner, there's no upside to sharing intelligence with the United States anymore, particularly when it comes to Russia, because it could end up on the House Intelligence Committee website.

So I think Putin and others are deeply aware that we're probably going to miss out on getting some very sensitive intelligence.

BLITZER: Yes, and in that letter from the assistant attorney general to the committee, saying please don't release this memo, among other things, they said releasing the memo would have a damaging impact -- "that could have a damaging impact on our national security and our ability to share and receive sensitive information from friendly foreign governments."

Why didn't they decide, if they're going to release the majority report, why didn't they release the minority report, Rebecca, at the same time and let the American public look at both and come up with their own conclusions?

[18:45:02] REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, what Republicans are saying that that memo was for later and so, it's still going through the review process. The Democrats want this memo released. The biggest obstacle to that happening, however, might be the president himself. So, he's going to have a final say whether it does get released to the American public. And the president doesn't have a huge political incentive to do that.

BLITZER: But I've been asking Republicans all day on the Intelligence Committee, you know, we just heard from Will Hurd, among others, why not wait a week or two and release the memo simultaneously, why did the Republican majority version has to be released today as opposed to when the Democratic version is scrubbed, redacted and whatever they do to protect national security?

BERG: And the simply answer, Wolf, is the obvious one, which is that Republicans wanted their side of the story out there by itself because it would have a bigger political impact, a bigger policy impact potentially and it can stand alone without any sort of rebuttal clouding that argument.

BLITZER: So, how damaging, Asha, is all of this -- what we're seeing today unfold to U.S. national security -- if you believe there is a damage?

RANGAPPA: Well, I think that Sam is right. At this point we know, for example, the memory me discloses that part of what was included in the affidavit was that the investigation into Russian interference began as a result of a tip from one of our allies to Australia, when they learned that a Russian diplomat had been touched with George Papadopoulos.

Now, that has been reported before so it is not shocking to us. But imagine that our allies, the Five Eyes, wow, if we share anything and especially coming from sensitive human source or collection methods, for all we know, it could end up at the front of "The New York Times" with the president's blessing on any given day. And that would give them pause.

The other thing in memo that I think was very potentially damaging is disclosing that Christopher Steele had been a long time source for the FBI. Now, again, this kind of seems like we have known this, but to the extent that Christopher Steele had been in touch with sources and the last half decade or decades, any intelligence service who had him on the radar is going to go back and check who he's been in touch with and who knows what might happen to those people at this point.

So, you know, this was reckless. I can completely see why the FBI felt it was a reckless effort and I don't really understand why this did not go through the proper vetting procedures especially since it really didn't reveal anything useful.

BLITZER: You know, why the FBI and the Justice Department said it was not just reckless, it was extraordinarily reckless. They begged the White House, they begged the president, don't release it.

So, where did Christopher Wray, the FBI director, and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein go from here when the president publicly humiliates them and slapping them down and says I am releasing it, I don't care what you think?

LIZZA: And now you're going to have -- those guys are going to have to make a decision of the minority memos whether they have similar objections or not. I mean, I think there are sort of two own goals on the Republican side in terms of this memo.

One, the hype leading up to this, the idea that this memo was going to show how the Steele dossier was origin, was the stark of this investigation on Russia and Trump. The memo confirmed something that we already knew, that it was actually Papadopoulos who was, you know, talking to the Australians and that's how the investigation actually started way before this FISA warrant.

Then the second thing is, two of the people approved this FISA warrant took it and signed off on it, one, Dana Boente, and two, Rod Rosenstein. They were both then given promotions in the Trump administration. So, if they're at the heart of some, you know, devious conspiracy against Trump, it's a little unusual because they were promoted by the president, which is why I think a lot of people think that one of the goals here at least from White House's position is to undermine Rosenstein in some way, who's overseeing the Russian investigation and give Trump an excuse to push him out.

BLTIZER: Yes. And, James Comey, Sam, the fired FBI director, he said, the dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House Intelligence Committee, destroyed trust with intelligence community, damaged relationships with FISA court and in excusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. Do you agree with him on that?

VINOGRAD: I do agree with him. But one of the biggest national security risk here is we're showing the world how easily distracted we are by conspiracy theory. That's what this memo is. And we can analyze every line in that, debunk every claim in it. But we're signaling to Vladimir Putin and the rest of the world that every time a congressman makes allegations that are unfounded and poorly sourced, we're going to get distracted, pay attention to that, and we cited the fact that we are continuously under attacked by Russia, we're inching closer to 2018.

[18:50:04] And I have not heard this administration answer the real question of what we're doing about it.

BLITZER: As the president, he wants to talk about, he says it's all Russia investigation, Rebecca, is a hoax, and it is been going on for a year. It's causing America's taxpayers a lot of money. He does not believe in the investigation, although a lot of other Republicans say yes, the Russians did, they had objective, they'll do -- even Director Pompeo of the CIA, he said the other day they're going to probably do it again if the U.S. doesn't stop them.

BERG: Right. And so, we are talking about months here, Wolf, until the November election, until potentially Russia is going to a chance again to influence an election. Now, Pompeo said in the same breath as he was saying that this is going to happen again, that he doesn't think it will have an impact. But that's his professional opinion and that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be ready to try to outweigh the impact that Russia might be having.

And the fact is as you said, that there isn't a plan in place. These congressional committees have been talking about this for months now, trying to put a plan in place but because of the partisan divisions on this issue, there hasn't been one.

BLITZER: And let me remind our viewers what the U.S. intelligence community concluded a year ago, January 2016, Russian President Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process. It looks like that mission from the Russians has been accomplished.

Just ahead, a new warning from the Pentagon about U.S. nuclear capabilities. Also an important programming note, be sure to turn in CNN tomorrow afternoon, tomorrow afternoon, for a special kick off in Minnesota. Getting ready for the CNN Bleacher Report on the Super Bowl. That's 2:30 Eastern, only here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:54] BLITZER: All right. Stand by for more on the release of the memo that's rocking official Washington.

But right now, there's another breaking story. The Pentagon is now out with an alarming new assessment of a threat of a nuclear strike against the United States not just by North Korea but Russia as well.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, this review was released, what, just a little while ago.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It was, Wolf.

Now, critics say this review will lower the threshold for President Trump or any president to someday decide to use nuclear weapons. Advocates say, given U.S. adversaries, all of this new deterrence is essential.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): While President Trump navigates the political mine field of the Russia investigation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been no collusion. There has been no crime.

STARR: Pentagon and State Department unveiled the toughest line yet against Vladimir Putin's military and a report on nuclear threats and the Trump administration's solution.

ANITA FRIEDT, ACTING ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR ARMS CONTROL, VERIFICATION & COMPLIANCE: Russia has increased its reliance on nuclear weapons and its capabilities, and as we pointed out, it's building a large and diverse nuclear arsenal.

STARR: The Pentagon detailing 2,000 Russian nuclear capable weapons that could hit Europe, including missiles, bombs, depth charges and torpedoes. And for first time confirming Russia is developing an underwater drone that can potentially go thousands of miles and strike the U.S. coastline.

Russia just one headache for Defense Secretary James Mattis as he begins the second year on the job. U.S. nuclear deterrence also aimed at North Korea which the report says may only be months away from the capability to strike the U.S. with nuclear armed missiles.

JOHN ROOD, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY: And if North Korea would in a hypothetical launch a ballistic missile tipped with nuclear weapon aimed at the United States that we intercepted, it's not the sort of thing that we would say, oh, well, that's the end of the story.

STARR: But because of current tensions, the Pentagon may delay a routine test of a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile until after the Olympics CNN has learned.

Along with the joint chiefs, job number one now for Mattis is to convince president to not conduct a limited strike against North Korea, hoping sanctions work before a missile is fielded.

Job number two, Mattis still has to have credible military options to back up the diplomatic effort.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He's got to present it in a way that leads up, that manages his boss so that his boss who has never seen combat, unlike General Dunford and Secretary Mattis, he has never experienced the kind of conflict they have seen, they have got to make him understand the catastrophic consequences of making decisions on use of military force.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So the next steps after this report, they are calling for massive modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and the development of new low yield, smaller, less damaging nuclear weapons -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.