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Report Surface Regarding White House Interaction with FBI Investigations; Interview with Congressman Jim Himes; Steve Bannon Speaks at CPAC. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Multiple U.S. officials telling CNN the White House sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russian matter to say that the reports were wrong and there had been no contact. These officials said FBI director James Comey rejected that request according to multiple sources in part because the alleged communications are the subject of an ongoing investigation. The White House spokesperson Sean Spicer says "We didn't try to knock the story down. We asked them to tell the truth." The FBI did not comment. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So obviously this is not a typical request, Pamela. How did it start?

BROWN: So this all began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting on the day after those stories were published. A White House official says McCabe told Priebus that "The New York Times" story vastly overstated what the FBI knows about the contacts.

A U.S. official says McCabe didn't discuss specific aspects of the case but wouldn't say exactly what McCabe told Priebus. The White House officials said Priebus later reached out to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking the FBI to talk to at least reporters on background to dispute these stories. Again, the FBI refused that request.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: To underline that, Pamela, this is certainly not a typical back and forth between any White House and the FBI.

BROWN: Right, ror a reason. There are a decade-old restrictions on such contacts between the White House and the FBI limiting those discussions only to when it is important for the president's duties and where appropriate from a law enforcement perspective. So if the deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, did say this to the White House, he may have overstepped since it is an ongoing investigation, not to mention an investigation involving the president's associates and Russia, and the request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communication with the FBI on pending investigations. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: OK, and this is still a pending investigation, correct? BROWN: Yes, it's pending. It's in full swing. The FBI

counterintelligence division is investigating. Several members of the House and Senate intelligence committees tell CNN that Congress is still investigating those alleged contacts. They're starting to collect documents and records, so the investigation is ongoing.

GREGORY: Pamela, we switched gears a little bit. You've also got reporting on the revision of the president's travel ban. What is that?

BROWN: Right. So sources tell my colleague Jake Tapper and I the White House request to DHS, Department of Homeland Security, to bolster its case for why the seven countries listed in the travel ban should remain. This request coming after the travel ban was blocked by the courts.

A senior White House official tells CNN the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department are working on this intelligence report that will demonstrate the security threat for these seven countries is substantial and these seven countries have all been exporters of terrorism into the United States.

The situation has gotten more dangerous in recent years, this official says, and more broadly the refugee program has been a major incubator for terrorism. As mentioned, this report was requested in light of that ninth circuit court of appeals conclusion that the Trump administration pointed no evidence as to why the citizens from those countries pose a threat. But CNN has learned that some rank and file intelligence officials are concerned about this assignment, Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Why? What are their concerns?

BROWN: So it's viewed by some at DHS as an attempt to politicize intelligence to fit a policy rather than the other way around. And some officials actually disagree with the Trump White House position on the seven countries. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security's in-house intelligence agency, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, I&A, has filed a report actually disagreeing with the White House view that blocking immigration from all seven countries is justified according to our sources. They do not think nationality is the best indicator of potential terrorism.

Now, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security confirmed this report to CNN, saying while DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you're referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official robust document with thorough interagency vetting. But our sources say the new head of I&A, David Glawe, may also be trying to politicize intelligence. He initially objected to his division's assessment that was at odds with the White House assessment. The DHS spokeswoman says that the notion of any intelligence within the agency being politicized is absurd and factually inaccurate. As you know the White House says the new travel ban is expected to be signed next week. Back to you.

CAMEROTA: Pamela, thank you very much for bringing us all of your original reporting.

President Trump is responding now. He is tweeting about this. Moments ago he says "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to the media that could have a devastating effect on the U.S. FIND NOW!" in all caps, exclamation point.

Joining us now to talk about this is Democratic congressman Jim Himes. He's a member of the intelligence committee. Congressman, thanks for being here.

[08:05:06] REP. JIM HIMES, (D) CONNECTICUT: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: So I just read President Trump's tweet. I want to point out that CNN's reporting at least about all this and the intelligence community, it came from a White House official, not from the FBI. So in other words, the president saying crack down on leakers, there are leakers in the White House that are sharing information because they think it's so important for it to get out there. But Congressman, what do you think that this tweet where he's saying he needs to crack down on the FBI, what do you think this means between the White House and the intel community?

HIMES: What this means, and you can expect to hear the president speak a lot more about leaks, you can expect to hear my Republican colleagues in Congress do what they've been doing for the last couple weeks when the question was about contacts between the president's people and Russia. They are not particularly interested in that stuff. What they want to focus on is leaks. And you rightly point out that these leaks are actually not coming from the intelligence community. In many instances they're coming from the White House.

CAMEROTA: Just so that I'm clear. We get some of our information from the intel community and some from the White House. So we actually CNN bases its reporting on both. But continue.

HIMES: Yes, I know, understand. Leaks are an issue. And there is a long conversation to be had about that. Classified information should not be leaked in any circumstances. Edward Snowden, we could go back to Watergate where of course Watergate and Bob Woodward got started because there was a leak from an individual who was called Deep Throat.

But the key thing here is the fact that the president's people went to the FBI and said we want you to do this. That is a profound violation of the way we do business. And then we learn, because CNN breaks another story, that the White House has been urging the intelligence community to arrive at a conclusion that supports where they want to be on the executive order.

If people feel like they've seen this movie before, it's because they have. You just need to think back to the early days of the Bush administration when poor Colin Powell, an honorable man, sat in front of the United Nations and said there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, when George Tenet, director of the CIA, told the president this is a slam dunk. That happened because an awful lot of very good people in the intelligence community heard loud and clear what conclusion the White House wanted and got sort of angled in that direction. This is a really scary thing with respect to what the White House is doing, telling the intelligence community what conclusion they want regardless of the evidence.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, let's break it down piece by piece. Let's talk about the Russia ties, the ties between -- alleged ties between the White House or at least the Trump campaign and Russian officials, because the reporting is they had repeated contacts during the presidential campaign. If the White House now doesn't like that reporting and even disagrees with that reporting and they think the FBI hasn't been forthcoming about what they disagree with in that reporting, what should they do? They're pressing the FBI to speak publicly. What should they do to make their case?

HIMES: First of all, they shouldn't contact the FBI. Again, that is against the rules. I'm old enough to remember a couple months ago when ex-president Clinton sat on a runway with then attorney general Lynch and had a conversation. And that blew up the Republican Party. Mind you, that wasn't a sitting president. That wasn't the boss. So there is no doubt in my mind that if this story broke in an alternative universe with a President Clinton, articles of impeachment would be being drawn up as we speak.

So the FBI and of course long conversation about what the FBI says and doesn't say, but the important thing here is that the White House severely damaged credibility. You talk about Russian's contacts with the president's people. The "Washington Post" and "New York Times" and other reported a couple of weeks ago that the intelligence communities believes that there were contacts with Trump's people. And of course, the Russians themselves, the deputy foreign minister of Russia has said, of course we were in contact with the Trump campaign. And yet the White House is saying no such contacts occurred. Just as they said Michael Lynch didn't have a conversation with the Russian ambassador.

So we're at a point in time here, and this is concerning for somebody like me doing the investigation with my committee, that the White House has at any number of times put out statements that turned out to be flatly false subsequently.

CAMEROTA: So is your House Intelligence Committee looking into this?

HIMES: Of course we are. Both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee are undertaking investigations of all these links with Russia. We are pursuing the transcripts of the conversation that General Flynn had with the Russian ambassador. And now, of course, we need to expand that investigation to include the fact that this White House seems to be trying to shape the intelligence they get to support pre-existing conclusions.

[08:10:00] Again, as I said before, that's pretty scary and it cannot happen. And by the way, I should note, an awful lot of us wish that we weren't the ones doing the investigation, that we had a 9/11-like commission, people who aren't in the political fray, people who are elder statesmen to look into this very serious situation. But of course Mitch McConnell said that's not going to happen. So it is the members of the intelligence committee doing that investigation.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, why don't you have the Flynn transcripts yet?

HIMES: Well, first of all, the investigations of course have only been under way for a couple of weeks. And the committees are getting all sorts of documents from the intelligence community, from others. Remember there's an issue here, and boy could we talk a lot about this, but there are live FBI investigations under way, which, of course, is at the root of why the White House cannot and should not have gone to the FBI to say here is what we want you to say. We want you to help us politically.

The FBI -- this is a whole long conversation because, of course, Director Comey prior to the election didn't feel all that badly about characterizing the investigation that was under way of Secretary Clinton's e-mails. Now all of a sudden Director Comey is not quite as -- what's the right word -- maybe punctilious with his desire not to be out there in public.

But ordinarily FBI investigations, we would not have access to that. So we're going to need to work carefully to make sure we have all the evidence that the FBI has developed over the course of their investigations, and that's a little bit challenging precisely because the FBI needs to be careful when they're doing an investigation not to be public about what it is that they're doing.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Jim Himes, thank you for sharing the information with us this morning. We obviously look forward to seeing what you find out in your investigation. Thanks for being here.

HIMES: Thanks, Alisyn.


GREGORY: In less than two hours President Trump will address the nation's biggest conference of conservative, CPAC. The president's remarks coming after chief strategist Steve Bannon repeatedly attacked the media in his appearance at the conference. CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns has more.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a rare public appearance White House chief strategist Steve Bannon assuring skeptical conservatives President Trump will deliver.

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Every day in the Oval Office he tells Reince and I, I committed this to the American people, I promised this when I ran, and I'm going to deliver on this.

JOHNS: Bannon calling the deconstruction of the administrative state, committed to massive deregulation.

BANNON: If you look at these cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason.

JOHNS: Bannon's rhetoric full of nationalist and populist ideology.

BANNON: We're a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders. But we're a nation with a culture and a reason for being.

JOHNS: The president's chief strategist vowing the president's war with the media is going to get worse.

BANNON: If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day, every day it is going to be a fight.

JOHNS: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus joining Bannon, appeared perhaps aimed at countering reports that the two men don't get along.

BANNON: I can appear a little hot on occasions.


BANNON: And Reince is indefatigable.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: If the party and the conservative movement are together, similar to Steve and I, it can't be stopped.

JOHNS: Vice President Mike Pence speaking later in the evening.

MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENT: This is our time.


JOHNS: Vowing, despite sharp differences among Republicans, health care reform is coming.

PENCE: Obamacare has failed and Obamacare must go.

JOHNS: In a new interview with Reuters, President Trump reiterating his call for nuclear supremacy.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack.

JOHNS: The president also comparing his crackdown on undocumented immigrants to a military operation.

TRUMP: We're getting really bad dudes out of this country. It's a military operation.

JOHNS: The White House later attempting to clarify, saying Trump was speaking metaphorically. In Mexico, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly trying to tamp down on fears.

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: No, repeat, no use of military force in immigration operations, none.

JOHNS: Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


CAMEROTA: All right, we need to talk about CPAC. Steve Bannon made a rather public appearance, and he laid out the Trump agenda ahead of the president's speech at CPAC this morning. So what will we hear from the president? And what exactly is their agenda that Steve Bannon explained? Our panel takes that on next.


[08:18:23] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump criticizing the FBI on Twitter this morning from his personal account. And now, he's also doing it from the official POTUS Twitter account.

Here's what he's saying, "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time." This continues on his Facebook page where he says they can't find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to the media that could have a devastating effect on the U.S."

And then he says in capital letters, "Find now!" explanation point.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. So, joining us now to talk about all of this, Jen Psaki, CNN political commentator, former White House communications director, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, and Kayleigh McEnany, CNN political commentator and contributor to "The Hill".

This is open warfare on the CIA and what is separate, but this is on the FBI.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I guess today is, we don't like Comey day, right? After we loved Comey, now we don't like Comey.

Look, I think it's a very dangerous war for Donald Trump to wage. To wage war against folks who may have information that may incriminate you may not be the smartest strategy. What I would tell Republicans is do your job, investigate everything, investigate the leaks, but also investigate the Russian ties.

The problem is that Donald Trump and Republicans want to be selective as to what they want to investigate. They only want to focus on the leaks but they don't want to focus on all the other worrisome information that has come out.

I think we need to keep pressing as American people, forget the distractions, keep your eye on the ball, folks. Let us keep demanding a full investigation, a full select committee to investigate all the Russia ties, including these leaks.

[08:20:01] CAMEROTA: Jen, President Trump isn't the first president who doesn't like any leaks. Obviously, President Obama wasn't crazy about it. What goes on in the White House? What's supposed to happen when you sense a deluge of information coming out of the intel community or even the White House itself?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first of all, this is a completely different approach, which is President Trump attempting to go after people who are making him look bad. That's very different from going after people who are leaking national security information that could be damaging to our country. This is exactly what he wants us to be talking about.

The reality is, this story is about the White House trying to influence a law enforcement agency, something that White Houses, Democrats and Republicans have avoided for decades. That's what we should be talking about here.

And, ultimately, the story is about their connections with the Russians which also is what we should be talking about. So, this is the art of distraction from this White House and I think we shouldn't be tricked by it.

GREGORY: But, Kayleigh, I mean, I think it's worth -- to be fair here -- the Obama White House aggressively prosecuted journalists because of national security leaks. So, it wasn't just about looking bad. The president here is also complaining about issues related to national security that could hurt the presidency. He may also be distracting from the fact that there's a big issue here about Russian meddling that's not just about him, it's about what Russia was up to and what it was up to last year and what it might be up to this year in Europe as well, which is dangerous.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. You know, I don't think it's distracting. I mean, I agree with Ana, there are two issues here. There's the Russian meddling issue and there's the leaker issue. They're separate, they're both important.

But I think sometimes in the press, we kind of disparage the former to focus on the latter. We disparage the fact that there are leakers leaking classified information which is extremely worrisome. It's not once, it's not twice. We've seen it a hand full of times just in the last month. We should be concerned about that, not from a political standpoint but from a broader American standpoint.

GREGORY: Well, wait, what if this president fires the FBI director? Which he can certainly do and he equivocated initially about whether he had confidence in him.

MCENANY: I think he does have confidence in him and I think it would be a flaw to fire him because Jim Comey I think is a very honorable man. The fact he's had both the right and the left angry at him probably means he's doing his job in a dignified way.

CAMEROTA: Ana, let's talk about CPAC. Today, the president speaking there, very interesting because he avoided it last year because he was afraid people wouldn't think he was a bona fide conservative, or they wouldn't respond to his message. But today, he's all in and conservatives are excited because he is keeping his conservative promises to him. The mysterious Steve Bannon spoke at CPAC. He really speaks publicly and he talked about everything is going just as planned. It's not chaos. It's exactly how we want it.

So, let's listen to a moment of Steve Bannon.


STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: There's a new political order that's being formed out of this, and it's still being formed. But I think we -- the center core of what we believe, that we're a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being. I think that's what unites us. I think that's what's going to unite this movement going forward.


CAMEROTA: What did you hear from Steve Bannon?

NAVARRO: I heard him trying to make conservatives "Trump conservatives". I think the Trump White House made a very concerted effort to really court and take over CPAC. You know, Kellyanne was even more obvious about it. She said it's going to be TPAC. We saw eight members of the White House go on that stage. You know, Donald Trump is going today.

So, I think they realize they've got a conservative problem, right? Trump has not always been a Republican. He's not a conservative. But he's trying to keep that base completely with him, completely behind him. If that base starts chipping away, he's got real problems, because right now, he's at 39 percent approval. But 39 percent is a strong approval from that base.

So, I think he was talking very narrowly to that base. Frankly, I had a hard time understanding some of the things he was saying. I don't know what deconstructing the administrative state means. I mean, these are code words that I don't speak as a traditional Republican.

GREGORY: The code words he talks about, the populism, Kayleigh, is perhaps the new conservatism. Maybe that's the new Republican Party the president leads, talks about this kind of singular America, the idea of defending a culture.

He's talking about that in terms of economic nationalism, but it's the same language that Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who was expelled from the conference, used when talking about his conservatism which is his passion for defending a unique culture.

MCENANY: Look, there are very different things said. They're both using the term culture but they mean entirely different things. Richard Spencer's viewpoint has no place in this country.

[08:25:00] We are a melting pot in this country and I'm very proud of that. And Steve Bannon is very proud of that.

What Steve Bannon is talking about, we have to protect American values. When Donald Trump says I only want people coming to this country who are freedom-loving people, who love America, who love the idea of democracy and pluralism, that is what Steve Bannon is talking about. A political culture, not an ethnic --

GREGORY: But, Jen Psaki, what Bannon is also saying is that America should be free from and distinct from a global interconnected, you know, international order.

PSAKI: Look, we are -- the world is global, and the United States is a part of that. And what I heard from Steve Bannon, I think what most people heard from Steve Bannon was a desire to shut the United States off from the world, to deny other cultures from being a part of the United States.

I don't think anyone heard -- most people didn't hear an embracing of a melting pot. They heard, if you don't look like me and sound like me, then we don't want you to be a part of our culture here. And that's a pretty dark and gloomy vision of the country and pretty dark and gloomy agenda for any president.

MCENANY: But I do think that misunderstands it. So, let me give you an example. Assimilation is very important. We want people who believe in American values.

You look over to, let's say, the U.K. or some European countries that embraced Sharia court systems within their culture. It's antithetical to the way judiciary should operate and certainly in a democracy. So, when he means our culture, he means our culture of democracy and assimilating and coming to American society and wanting to become an American.

NAVARRO: Look, this administration has the political version of multiple personality disorder. What we are seeing is that the White House speaks solely to the base. Donald Trump is speaking to the base. And then he'll say I hate NATO. Mike Pence will go to Europe and say we love NATO.

He'll say military operation and deportations. General Kelly will come out and say, no military forces will be used on deportation.

Mattis -- I mean, practically, every cabinet secretary is doing and saying something differently than what Donald Trump is saying via tweet or saying at CPAC or saying wherever, because he is speaking to the base, while the rest of them are actually trying to run a very different government.

It is -- at some point, I think it's going to lead to a clash because it's very confusing.

GREGORY: All right. We are going to leave it there this morning. Thank you all very much. Have a good weekend.

MCENANY: Thank you. GREGORY: We are coming right back.

The congressional recess can't end soon enough for some lawmakers who are facing angry voters at town hall events in their hometowns. So, what has constituents seeing red. A live report coming up next.