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House Intel Committee Releases Nunes Memo; Interview with Rep. Chris Stewart; Comey Tweets in Response to Nunes Memo Release; Graham: Firing Mueller Would Be End of Trump Presidency. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 13:30   ET

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


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: What will is Rod Rosenstein -- also named by the president to be the number two, the deputy attorney general -- can they stay on the job after being humiliated so publicly by the president of the United States, after they expressed what they called their "grave concerns" about releasing this memo.

Everybody, stand by.

We got a statement from the Democratic leader in the House, minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, saying this. I'll read her words: "Donald Trump has surrendered his constitutional responsibility as commander-in- chief by releasing Nunes' unredacted classified memo. His decision undermines our national security and is a bouquet to his friend, Putin."

That was strong words. We'll assess that.

A lot more coming up. I'll also speak live with a Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee.

This is CNN's special live coverage. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[13:34:53] BLITZER: We're following is major breaking news here in Washington, the release of this four-page memorandum released by the Republican majority of the House Intelligence Committee alleging wrongdoing on the part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the FBI and the Justice Department.

Jim Sciutto is getting more information.

Jim, what else are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you reported, and we've been reporting, a central claim of the Nunes memo is the former FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee that that initial warrant on Carter Page would not have been issued without the Steele dossier, furthering this Republican claim, the president's claim as well, that really this is based all on the dossier which at the time was funded by Democrats. I've spoken to two Intelligence Committee Democrats and they dispute Nunes' characterization of the committee.

One of them said he is mischaracterizing what he said. That's not what he remembers them saying. And now Democrats are pushing for the transcript of McCabe before the committee. They want that record set straight.

Paul Ryan, in addition to expressing support for the Nunes memo being released, is calling for the committee to release the Democratic memo, the Democratic side of this story in effect as well.

Again, the key line here, two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee disputing Nunes and his description, what is a central claim of the Nunes memo, what Andrew McCabe told them about the role of the dossier in initiating this warrant on Carter Page.

BLITZER: A very important point, indeed.

The statement from the speaker, Paul Ryan, which we now have, you're absolutely right, he wants that Democratic minority report released as soon as it's scrubbed, presumably, to make sure there is no classified information there. He also says, "I also have serious concerns with the practice of using political documents funded by a candidate's political opponents to make law enforcement and counterintelligence decisions."

That's basically what the House Intelligence Committee Republican majority is saying as well.

Everybody, stand by.

I want to bring in a guest right now, Utah Congressman Chris Stewart, a Republican. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thank you for joining us.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What else besides the so-called dossier, the Steele dossier, was used to justify before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court going ahead and issuing this warrant against Carter Page?

STEWART: Very, very little. And, you know, the previous reporter said that some Democratic colleagues are saying Mr. McCabe said, no, it wasn't the dossier that was the preponderance of the evidence. I can assure you that is exactly what he said. And I hope those transcripts are released. So in addition to the dossier to support a FISA warrant on a private citizen, ironically, they used a Yahoo! News story that was based on what? The dossier. That's essentially it.

Look, Wolf, you can't read this -- I was listening to some of your previous guests and kind of smiling as they tried to twist and turn this thing. You cannot read this and not be concerned. Did the FBI and the Department of Justice, did they abuse their power in a presidential election? That is a serious question. And one other thing. Why in the world --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: On that specific point, Congressman, you want the FBI director, you want him gone right now? You have lost confidence in him, Christopher Wray?

STEWART: No, I'm not saying that at all.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Have you lost confidence in the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein? Do you want him gone?

STEWART: No, I'm not calling for anyone's resignation, I just want people to be accountable --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Of all this wrongdoing, and the president rejected their concerns of grave, grave repercussions if this memorandum was released. And they went to the White House and they personally appealed to John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, please don't do this, the president rejects that advice, why shouldn't they be gone?

STEWART: Well, again, I'm not calling for anyone's resignation. That's between them and the president.

But, Wolf, you've read this. Look what we've heard for the last week. Grave national security concerns, it's going to endanger methods, it's going to endanger people. Show me anything in this memo that does that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Congressman --

STEWART: It simply doesn't.

BLITZER: Congressman, why didn't you release the Democratic minority report, the 10 pages they wrote --

STEWART: Because --

BLITZER: -- rebutting many of the points you're making right now? Why would they hold that up and not, what they always do -- and I've covered the House Intelligence Committee for decades -- why not release them simultaneously, the majority report and the minority report?

STEWART: Two points on that. Number one, every Republican voted to release the Democratic memo to the House. I suspect every Republican -- I know that I will -- will vote to release that to the American people as well.

(CROSSTALK)

[13:40:05] BLITZER: Why not do it simultaneously --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why not give the American public the opportunity, Congressman, to look at both at the same time?

STEWART: I'm trying to tell you why. Because it hadn't been scrubbed yet.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: I can tell you the Democratic memo is much longer --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Why did they have to rush to release the Republican report? You could have waited a few days, scrubbed the Democratic report, and done so at the same time.

STEWART: Well, I think we felt like this is so important that the American people needed to know. Look, this is an investigation that's going on for more than a year now. It will continue, I'm sure. I don't think the investigation pivots on the few days when some information might be available and other will follow. The Democrats have their ability to make their case, as does, I might point out, the FBI if they feel like there is something in this memo that isn't accurate. I hope they do make their case.

But I tell you, once again, whether this is released simultaneously or a few days apart, you're going to be able to compare them side by side --

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: -- and draw their own conclusions.

BLITZER: So many of your colleagues, former members, current members, they say what you did -- you voted against releasing the Democratic report. All the Republicans did along strict party lines. You voted in favor of releasing the Republican report, Congressman.

STEWART: No. No, that's not true. We voted to release the Democratic report.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: We voted to release it to the House of Representatives.

BLITZER: Yes, but not at the same time as the Republicans'.

STEWART: Everybody did.

BLITZER: You wanted to hold off. You wanted it to go through what they call a scrubbing process. You wanted --

STEWART: Yes. BLITZER: You voted in favor of releasing the Republican report right away. You didn't vote in favor of releasing the Democratic report right away.

STEWART: Well, we went through the same process with both of them.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: There were two votes and they were both strictly along party lines.

STEWART: Wolf, why are we talking about that instead of talking about the contents of this memo?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because the contents of the memo, Congressman, the contents of the memo are being seen as political. Remember, Devin Nunes, the chairman of your committee, he was a member of the Trump transition team. He worked assertively on behalf of the president. He had to recuse himself at one point because he was too close to the White House. He was getting back-channel information. He himself had to remove himself. Mike Conaway, the number-two Republican, had to take over.

So this is seen by a big chunk of the American public, Congressman, as being a politicized moment in American history, which you could have avoided by simply releasing both memos at the same time --

STEWART: Wolf --

BLITZER: -- which has always been the case.

STEWART: OK, look, we can talk all afternoon if you want about whether the memos are separated by a few days. Why aren't we talking about what's in these memos? Why aren't we talking about whether the FBI abused their power? Why aren't we talking about whether they were honest before the FISA courts? Did they present information? Did they tell the FISA courts that this dossier, that, by the way, the FBI director himself said was unverified and salacious, did they tell the FISA courts that? Did they tell the FISA court that this was nothing but a political hack job paid for by the Democrats and Hillary Clinton? Why aren't we talking about that --

BLITZER: All right, what I want to do --

STEWART: -- instead of some process that involves a few days.

BLITZER: Congressman, I know you're an honorable member of the House Intelligence Committee, and I'm sure you must be very upset that your committee has now been blown apart. Going back many, many decades, I've never seen the House Intelligence Committee so partisan as it has become over these past several months.

Mike Rogers, the former chairman of your committee, and former FBI agent, is with us right now. I want to bring him in because I want him to ask you a question. He has deep concerns, Congressman, the way you and the Republican majority of this committee have behaved.

Go ahead, Mike Rogers.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I'm just curious what happens next? Is there any chance to have a bipartisan investigation into the accusations, or at least the story you tell in the memo?

STEWART: Yes. We certainly hope so. And Mike, I know you. You were on the committee before I came on, but we've interacted in the House. You may be a Republican, but we may agree to disagree on this. Some of the things you said I do disagree with.

Look, one of the things I loved about the committee was it was bipartisan. We didn't do our work in front of the television cameras. We traveled together, we got to know each other, and we worked on national security and intelligence issues which are by nature bipartisan.

And I agree with you, both of you, Wolf. You said the same thing. It is disturbing, it does break my heart that we have lost that. But we still have to complete our responsibilities. We still have to investigate this and report to the American people.

And look at an example of this. I myself have been called a traitor. I have been said that I care more about President Trump than I do about my country. These are my Air Force wings that my father wore. I was an Air Force pilot. I have members of my family that are deployed even now. Talk about bipartisanship when you are calling members of the committee traitors because we wanted to release this report, and now tell me what in that report would indicate we would betray our country?

[13:45:17] BLITZER: We don't know what the Democratic side is because you've refused to release the minority report so far.

STEWART: One again --

BLITZER: Hold on --

STEWART: -- what is in this report that would indicate --

BLITZER: We -

STEWART: -- I have betrayed my country?

BLITZER: But You know when there is a legal battle and there is a defendant and a prosecutor, there are always two sides, and it's important to get both sides, and right now the other side is being silenced.

But Jane Harmon is with us as well, Congressman, and she served for many years on the House Intelligence Committee. She remembers her experiences. She has a comment she wants to make to you as well.

JANE HARMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We don't know each other, but I served on the committee for eight years, four as ranking members, from 2002 to 2006. I also represented a district in Los Angeles that makes most of our intelligence satellites, so this is personal to me, too.

My question is this: Aside from the past and future of the committee, the future I am very sad about, what about all the members of the intelligence community who right now are watching this, and some of them serving in austere locations in harm's way, what are they saying about this and are they getting a message they have to get that our country stands behind them and the intelligence they are getting is the political sphere to find out stuff to harm us?

Just one more point. I'm a Democrat. I was called a traitor, too.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: Let me respond to that if I could.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: Let me respond to that if I could.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

STEWART: One at a time.

Look, I have talked with FBI agents in the last 24 and 48 hours who support the release of this memo. I have never said, and I don't know anyone who said the FBI organization is corrupt. What we have said is that there was some leadership in the FBI that we think made mistakes and they should be held accountable if they did, and we should tell the American people that. FBI agents feel the same way. If their leadership has gone askew, if they've done things they shouldn't, those people want them held accountable. Of course they do. And I would say the same thing to the I.C. generally. They want their leaders to be held accountable if they made mistakes.

They're smart enough to know when we say, look, we've got a problem here, we're concerned about that. They're smart enough to know we're not attacking them and the entire organization or agency. We're trying to do what Congress is supposed to do. And that's provide oversight. And that's to report to the American people. You can't have any organization that is so sanctified that have oversight over them, we can't question them. The only ones who can do that are Russians and the KGB back in the day, but we don't do that.

HARMON: Of course, we don't, but that's why Mike Rogers' suggestion that there be a full investigation in the committee if it can be available to function is so much better than releasing public statements, don't you think?

STEWART: We're doing that, and we'll continue to do that. We have more information we are going to release. We hope the Democrats will join us in that effort. We hope we can provide a bipartisan report, which is certainly our objective and our goal. But, look, you can look back at this -- this memo has been demonized over the last week or so and then say once again it's the Republicans' fault for releasing it.

BLITZER: Congressman --

STEWART: It is our responsibility to report to the American people.

BLITZER: I just want you to react once again to the reporting we're getting from Jim Scuitto, our chief national security correspondent. He's quoting Democrats on your committee as disputing what your Republican majority memorandum says about Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director's testimony, that it was strictly based on that Steele dossier. Democrats are disputing that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You say you want the transcript of his testimony released. When are you going to do that?

STEWART: Well, that will be -- that will be up to the committee, I suppose. I don't know the rules for doing that. I wanted to do what Diane Feinstein did, and that's by herself release transcripts. But I would support releasing those transcripts. And I can promise you this. When this memo was created, we were very, very careful. We didn't take political opinions. We didn't take, you know, speculation. We read the transcripts very, very carefully. I'm extraordinarily confident that what we put in this memo about Mr. McCabe is exactly backed up by the transcript.

BLITZER: And were you there when he testified? Did you read the transcript of what he said?

STEWART: You bet, I was. You bet, I was.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And the Democrats seem to be suggesting you're cherry picking one answer and ignoring other answers. Your response.

[13:50:01] STEWART: My response is, look, I would love to release a transcript just like I wanted to release this memo and let the American people decide. And by the way, this isn't about national security. We're not talking about CIA undercover agents in Russia. We're talking about Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele, who put together a political document. I've argued for month this shouldn't be classified. I argued for months it shouldn't be done in public, so we hold people accountable and you don't have things like this, where people say the memo doesn't reflect the reality of the transcript, when I know that it does.

BLITZER: But we are talking about national security. Let's get back to the bigger picture for a moment, Congressman. Do you believe that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election? Do you agree with the director of National Intelligence, the CIA, the NSA, the FBI, when they released their final report in January of last year that Russia interfered deliberately in the election?

STEWART: Not only do I agree with that, I was in Moscow a couple of months before the election and came home and said every media that would listen to me, Russia is going to interfere. I was trying to warn the American people before the election. Of course, I agree with that. We start --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Do you agree with the conclusion of the intelligence community, they did so for three reasons? The first reason, to sow descent and undermine the U.S. democracy. Do you accept that conclusion?

STEWART: Absolutely. That's what I said all along. They asked, why would they do this? They want to break way the foundation of democracy. And they've been so successful in that. Partly, because of our own accord, unfortunately.

BLITZER: So Putin has succeeded, because that's what's happening right now. The whole nation or the support for the intelligence community, the law enforcement community, the fighting that's going on here in Washington, he's sitting back and he's smiling, saying, guys, good work, we succeeded.

STEWART: No doubt about it. You know, the guy who -- the Russian officer who put this together surely deserves a promotion because it's exceeded their expectations. There's no doubt about it. It's one of the things we hope we can come around to talk about. That is, is there any way to insulate ourselves from this in the future. You know, we've got elections coming up in nine months or so. We're going to have a presidential election in 2020. It's not like Russia is going to look at this and say that wasn't worth our time.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: They're going to look at this and say, holy cow, look how successful this was, let's go do more of it.

BLITZER: You disagree -- I want to get to James Comey, the fired FBI director. He just issued a statement. You disagree with the president, this idea of Russian meddling, that it's simply a hoax, it's gone on too long? On that specific point, Congressman, you disagree with the president?

STEWART: I think there's two distinctions. One is Russian meddling. There's no question that was the case, and no question, as I said just now, that they were successful. The second thing, and I think that's what Mr. Trump is talking about, and that's the accusation of collusion. I don't know a single Democrat who wants to talk about collusion any longer. As Dianne Feinstein and others have said, there isn't evidence of it. I think that's what the president is talking about when he says he feels like it's a witch hunt, when they accuse him and people around him of colluding -- which is treasonous, by the way. It's a serious accusation -- of colluding with Russian agents.

BLITZER: He says the whole thing is a hoax, a witch hunt. He wants the whole thing to end. He makes it clear it's gone on way too long, costing the American taxpayers way too much money. He says move on and get over it.

Let me reads Comey's tweet.

STEWART: If he wanted the whole thing to end, if he wanted the whole thing to end, I would disagree with him. This is too important for us not to complete.

BLITZER: The argument that some of his aides have suggested is by releasing this memo, it undermines the entire Russia probe, it undermines the investigation, it creates great concern among a big chunk of the American public that this is all political. It's simply designed by what's called a deep state to get him to undermine the president of the United States. That's why he wants it gone.

Let me read to you James Comey's tweet that he just posted in response to the release of this majority memo by the House Intelligence Committee. Quote, "That's it. Dishonest and leading memo wrecked the House Intelligence Committee, destroy trust with intelligence community, damage relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ and FBI must keep doing their jobs."

Very strong words from James Comey. Go ahead and respond.

STEWART: It's not the first strong words we've heard interest Mr. Comey, is it? He has been vocal on Twitter the last few days as he has tried to stop this memo from being released. Of course, he's going to say that about this memo. He's named in the memo. It was the FBI under his leadership that did what this memo indicates they did. I don't expect him to stand up and say, cheers to the Republicans, congratulations. Of course, he's going to try to denigrate it. He's the one we would hold accountable. He was the FBI director at the time.

[13:55:20] BLITZER: So, you're glad he was fired?

STEWART: You know what? I have no opinion on that. I think simply, had we gone forward, we would have been able to continue our investigation. At some point, we would be able to share, as we're doing now, with the American people, his actions. But I don't really care one way or the other if the president had fired him. That was between he and the president.

BLITZER: One final question, Congressman -- and you've been very generous with your time. We really appreciate you joining us.

STEWART: Yes.

BLITZER: It's important to get your perspective. Do you agree with Lindsey Graham, Republican Senator from South Carolina, that if the president does go ahead and fires the special counsel, Robert Mueller, that would be the end of his presidency?

STEWART: I hope he does not fire Special Counselor Mueller. I hope Mr. Mueller continues his investigation. I always said that. I think it would be a terrible mistake, politically. I think, for one thing, I'm not afraid of Mr. Mueller's investigation going forward. As I said there's no collusion we've seen in a year. If I would say I wanted him to be fired that would indicate I'm afraid of his findings. I'm simply not. I don't think the president intends to fire him. I don't think there's any serious conversation, at all, in the White House about firing him.

BLITZER: Congressman Chris Stewart, of Utah, member of the House Intelligence Committee. Thanks so much for joining us.

STEWART: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's get some reaction to what we just heard.

Gloria, he is a very intelligent guy, very smart guy, very passionate, very committed. A great patriot. And he strongly defends the release of the memo.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He defends the release of the memo. He believes, as you heard him say quite strongly, that the American public needs to know that the FISA court made a decision based on a political document, the Steele dossier. What we know from reading through this, by the way, as we all have been doing, is that it wasn't based just on the Steele dossier. In the last paragraph in this document, it talks about a FISA application based partly on the Papadopoulos information that triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July of 2016. So, as much as people would maybe like you to believe that it was based solely on this dossier, which the president says is a hoax, and lots of people, Republicans, believe is a hoax, et cetera, et cetera, that there was something else there. So, we don't have all the information here. And while the Congressman says, you know, he's fine with releasing the Democratic document, the Democratic document as yet we have not seen it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He kept bringing up, why aren't we talking about what's in this memo? By the way, we have been talking about that. They sort of hurt their case by not letting it be more bipartisan, releasing both memos at the same time. Clearly, the FBI director has been public, saying there are key omissions. This creates a factually inaccurate narrative.

You're sort of left thinking, OK, this is only one part of the story. What more is out there? Had they released both at the same time, we would have more information to work with, and make a better judgment.

Mike Rogers, do you understand his explanation as to why they didn't release the two memos simultaneously?

ROGERS: I do. I think I'm stronger than Chris Stewart was on the chairman. There is a process that this information has to go through.

BLITZER: Couldn't they have waited --

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: They could have waited. BLITZER: -- another week or so? What would have been the difference

if they released them both simultaneously next week at this time as opposed to releasing just this one?

ROGERS: You got me there, Wolf. But I will say it would have been inappropriate, I think, for them to vote and make members vote on a document they had less than 24 hours. The Democrats put it together, threw it out at the committee and said we want to vote, too. That's not fair because you're dealing with classified and sensitive information.

BLITZER: They have to vet it. They have to scrub it. They have to make sure there are sources and methods -

ROGERS: They could have waited.

BLITZER: They have to make sure the methods aren't undermined. They have to make sure that cooperation with friendly foreign intelligence agencies will not be undermined.

By the way, the FBI and the Justice Department, they warned the president of the United States, they warned the House Intelligence Committee, if you release this memo, there will be damage.

And Comey now, in this tweet, says that releasing this memo, "inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen."

ROGERS: I do think it's not helpful that Comey keeps weighing in on this.

BORGER: Yes --

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: It keeps picking the scab on this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, he's saying that because he was head of the agency at the time.

HARMON: One of the things the Congressman said was Vladimir Putin is winning on this thing. We have to keep that in mind.