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FBI Asks Justice Department to Refute Trump Claims; New Travel Ban could be Unveiled this Morning; Sessions Set to Revise Testimony on Russia. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired March 6, 2017 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for joining us. Any minute now we are expecting the Trump administration to release new details of its travel ban. There is an event being held in 90 minutes but we could get information before then, so stand by.
Meanwhile, a stunning vote of no confidence from the FBI toward the President of the United States, sources tell CNN that the bureau has asked the Justice Department to publicly reject the president's explosive claim that former President Obama had ordered the tapping of Mr. Trump's phones before the election.
HARLOW: This all has to do with what you could call a giant Russian cloud hanging over this White House. And look at this, it's a brand- new CNN poll shows that some 65 percent of you, 65 percent of Americans now want a special prosecutor to investigate the alleged contact between Russian officials and those close to the president. Also this morning, the administration is responding to a new provocation from the North Korean dictator after that country launched several more missiles overnight. Let's begin this morning at the White House with Sara Murray. Good morning, Sara.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Well, the president set off yet another firestorm this weekend when he made this allegation of wiretapping without offering up any evidence that in fact, the prior administration may have ordered some kind of wiretap of the president-elect. Now, the former director of National Intelligence was asked about this over the weekend. Listen to what James Clapper said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: But I will say that for the part of the National Security Apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president -- the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MURRAY: Now, certainly the administration will be particularly happy to hear that today. And it is worth noting that we have asked them repeatedly to provide some evidence to back up the president's claim, which appears to be stemming from a "Breitbart" article that he saw online. But in one other moment in this James Clapper interview that the administration might like a little bit better. He also said he hasn't seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLAPPER: This could have unfolded or become available in the time since I left the government. -- At the time, we had no evidence of such collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MURRAY: So, you see there, that might be more welcome news to the Trump administration. But it certainly doesn't mean these investigations into Russia are going away anytime soon. We know committees in both the House and the Senate are looking into this. We know intelligence agencies are looking into it. And Poppy, as you pointed out, this is kind of the cloud that continues to follow the Trump administration around.
HARLOW: That's for sure. I mean, frankly, the headlines this morning aren't as much about Clapper saying no collusion as they are about where's the evidence for the wiretapping, right? The White House would want it reversed. But they're just not answering these fundamental questions.
Sara, also, what we now know that in just about an hour from now, we're going to get the president and his team talking about the new travel ban. Do we know any of the details coming out about what they think will make this one more likely to get through the courts?
MURRAY: Well, we are expecting this travel ban to come out today. Remember, they had a lot of hurdles with the first one. They didn't brief the appropriate agencies about how to implement it. They caused chaos at the airports. This one, they're trying to be much more careful about. They're trying to make sure the appropriate agencies are briefed on how to implement it.
They're also doing it in such a way that they excluded Iraq from the original set of seven Muslim-majority countries that they were planning on banning travel from. That's because Iraq has been helping the U.S. to fight ISIS. And so, there were a number of back channel conversations about how it might not actually be to the U.S.'s benefit to include them in a travel ban.
But they're also trying to be much more careful about their language when it comes to legal permanent residents, for instance. Remember, this was a huge issue in the courts, the notion that somehow if you are a legal permanent resident of the United States that you would still potentially be caught up, be facing hassles because of this travel ban. Those are kind of the broad contours. They're certainly hoping that this is the kind of thing that can withstand the scrutiny of the courts in the way the last one did not.
HARLOW: All right, Sara Murray at the White House, thank you. We'll wait again for the president and the Secretary of State to come out with the details of that travel ban.
BERMAN: All right. Let's get back to the current president, the former president, the FBI, wiretaps and lack of evidence. Joining us, Matthew Waxman, a law professor at Columbia University and Mike Baker, former CIA covert operations officer and president of Diligence LLC, a global intelligence security firm. Gentlemen, welcome. Professor, I want to start with you. Educate us, if you can, about the situation. Just so we can clear things up quickly. Yes or no, can the president order a wiretap?
MATTHEW WAXMAN, PROFESSOR OF LAW COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: So, it's extremely difficult for the president to order a wiretap. And even the president asking for a wiretap would set off all kinds of alarm bells because there's usually a very strict separation between the investigatory powers within an administration and the White House. It's designed. The system is designed so that the president doesn't interfere in investigations.
[10:05:09] HARLOW: So the bar is incredibly high. And there are two kinds of wiretaps. You would order it in a criminal investigation and for foreign intelligence. What are the chances that -- because the administration is coming out this morning and they're basically saying, well the president is privy to things that we are not, his folks. But is the president privy to things like these wiretaps that the director of National Intelligence would know nothing about and that the FBI director would know nothing about?
WAXMAN: That doesn't seem plausible to me. As you say, there are really two different types of wiretaps. There are criminal justice -- criminal wiretaps, often called Title III wiretaps, or national security wiretaps, foreign intelligence wiretaps. It's important to remember, both types of wiretaps are very tightly regulated. Both of them require a showing that a certain standard is met. Both of them require that the Justice Department review them and sign off on them. And both require that a judge approve them.
BERMAN: And Mike Baker, to that point, you know didn't the president -- there are people who say, look, President Trump just stepped in it right here. Look, either he's lying about there being evidence, and even if there is, that even if there is some merit to what he's saying, didn't he essentially just admit that a court found merit to tap the phones in Trump Tower?
HARLOW: Can't hear him.
BERMAN: All right. We're going to wait to get Mike Baker back there. But in the meantime, Professor, you know, can you answer that question. Again, you know, if they did tap those phones -- and not the president. Look, President Obama and his people denied that he did it but maybe it was someone in the administration, maybe there was an investigation that a court would have had to have said that there was some merit, whether it be probable cause in a criminal case or at least some foreign intelligence purpose?
WAXMAN: Yes, I can see a couple of different scenarios here. One would be that if a court -- if the Justice Department and a court found that there was sufficient indication of a crime or a foreign intelligence connection, perhaps they did apply to a court and get an order.
Another possibility here and this seems to be -- what a former national security adviser, Mike Flynn, was caught up in, is, it is the case that the government conducts foreign intelligence surveillance of agents of foreign powers. For example, it might be a foreign ambassador. And if that foreign ambassador -- is speaking by phone to Americans, those communications might incidentally be picked up.
HARLOW: If they were speaking to someone at Trump Tower, which we have no evidence of. You're saying that could be picked up. It's an important point of distinction. Mike Baker we can hear you now, my friend, your thoughts?
MIKE BAKER, FORMER CIA COVERT OPERATIONS OFFICER AND PRESIDENT DILIGENCE LLC: Great, excellent. I think that -- President Trump is doing what he's been doing. He's speaking in absolutes. He speaks with a sledgehammer. There's no room for nuance. He just throws things out there. I think, you know, we probably need to all get to a point where we don't read between the lines in a President Trump tweet.
Is it possible, talking about what James Clapper said? Is it possible the DNI would not know about a wiretap? Well, yes, of course, it is. It might just go through DOJ. These things would be very closed-cell. So is it likely? No, it's not likely. What it's doing, it's another self-inflicted wound from this White House. It's more noise that's not necessary.
Look, North Korea has just launched four banned ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. We've got troops fighting an incredibly difficult mission in Mosul, trying to retake that city from ISIS. And we've got a variety of other issues around the world we need to be paying attention to. And yet this administration, through - sort of a lack of discipline, a lack of messaging, an inability to understand that they own the House, they own the Senate, they have the people's House. Just get on with the business of governing. Don't worry about what the media is saying to you. Don't worry about throwing the -- somebody's got to get their hands on that phone and keep him from tweeting.
BERMAN: You know, you say they have the White House. They have the House. They have the Senate. There are people around the president who feel what they don't have is what's called the "Deep State," right? These are professional people in the government, whether it be in security or intelligence, people who are careerists in there, who may be leaking this information or may not be politically loyal to the president. Do you think those concerns are legitimate, Mike?
BAKER: Well, I think they are, but again, it's another self-inflicted wound. Because of the time it's taking for them, for this transition to remove people from the previous administration, which always happens, every time you have a change in administration. And put back into those second and third tier positions that are appointee positions, people who are you know, from your perspective, going to be loyal and working hard for your agenda.
[10:10:00] And so, yes, the fact that you've got people in there who are adamantly opposed to the new administrations, still in positions, a policy importance, that is a problem. But it's also a problem that's been driven by the White House's inability to just get on with it, to understand the processes and protocols and march forward in a timely fashion.
HARLOW: So, on your point of process, Professor back to you. I mean, what's so confusing to me and I think a lot of us this morning. So the White House comes out of with this allegation, right? The president to former president, right? And then this morning, spokespeople for the White House come out and say we want Congress to investigate.
So they're asking Congress to investigate their own White House that made this assertion and find evidence, basically to back up this claim, where the president could just snap his fingers, declassify the supposed evidence and say, here is the proof that I was wire tapped by the former president. Do I have that straight?
WAXMAN: Yes, there are a couple of things from a process standpoint that are odd about this. One is, the president could have taken actions himself to gather some more information before leveling the allegations. Or if he wanted Congress to investigate, he could have asked, requested that Congress investigate, wait for the results before leveling the allegations. I agree with Mr. Baker that leveling these kinds of allegations -- right away is really a self-inflicted wound that I think will damage him. --
BERMAN: Doesn't he have the proof at his fingertips, if he wants to make the proof public he could -- if a FISA order exists.
HARLOW: He can declassify anything, right?
WAXMAN: That's right. Now, one challenge that he would have and one reason why it would be difficult or at least delicate for him to do so is, if those orders existed because they were part of an ongoing or previous investigation, presidents tend not -- to ask directly for information. And so, he would be crossing a different line between, let's say the Justice Department and the White House.
BERMAN: Also, there could be connections to people he knows in there -
WAXMAN: That's right.
BERMAN: -- which is another delicate reason.
WAXMAN: That's right.
HARLOW: Very quickly, Mike Baker, final thought. Do you find it odd that the director of the FBI is not the one coming out and saying, you know, there's nothing here, Mr. President, that instead the FBI has asked the DOJ to do that?
BAKER: No. No, I think he's looking at reporting lines and chain of command, and I think he's in that regard, if he has made that request, I think that's the proper request to make. Look, again, -- I think what we'll find, there may be two things running here on parallel tracks. One is this issue of - you know, Russian influence with Trump associates and was there contact and what level of communication and what were they talking about.
Frankly, I think that's a lot of noise. And at the end of the day and I think we should be doing the investigation, that's a good thing, that's fine. Do the investigation. I think that's going to be found out to be a lot of smoke. Of course, they have conversations about policy. Of course, they have discussions about diplomacy. The Russians, of course, are going to want to know what this administration coming in is about.
Then you've got on the other track, you've got the Russian meddling in the campaign, the election process. And that's probably the more important of these two investigations, frankly. And in a bipartisan fashion, if you just take away the politics, that's what we should be thinking about more. And have the Russians been meddling? Of course they've been meddling. They've been doing it for generations. Let's focus the investigation on that. And frankly, if there's anything to this, if there's anything beyond smoke to this other track, then that would come out during the course of these investigations.
BERMAN: 65 percent of Americans told our pollsters they want a special prosecutor at this point. Mike Baker, Matthew Waxman, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.
HARLOW: Thank you very much, guys. All right, coming up next for us, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions set today to revise his testimony on Russia. What his actual answer is to that question that certainly tripped him up last week. This as a new poll sends a very clear message from the American public. Americans want a special prosecutor to investigate any alleged ties between Russia and those surrounding the president.
BERMAN: And then, overnight, what some see as an alarming new test for this president. North Korea launches four missiles towards Japan. What is North Korea after? Then also, after weeks of secret meetings, Republicans that they've finally will make public their replacement plan for Obamacare.
[10:18:39] BERMAN: All right. Sometime today, we are expecting Attorney General Jeff Sessions to submit his revised testimony in writing about his meetings with the Russian ambassador. The two met twice last year. But Jeff Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when asked about contacts between Trump surrogates -- well, he wasn't asked about contacts between Trump surrogates' and Russia. He was asked what he would do -- about said contacts.
HARLOW: Right. But then he answered it. -
BERMAN: He answered it.
HARLOW: He answered in a way and left out some key meetings. All right, so we'll see what his written testimony says. -- Meantime, Democrats want Sessions to return to Capitol Hill in front of the Judiciary Committee for a new round of questioning. It does not look like at this point, though, that that's going to happen.
At the same time, we've got this brand-new CNN poll this morning. Here's one of the key numbers in it. 65 percent of Americans now want a special prosecutor to investigate all of this. Joining us now to talk about this and more is Thomas Pickering, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and many other places. It is very nice to have you with us, thank you, sir.
You have been an ambassador for many, many years including an ambassador to Russia. And I think the big outstanding question is, when you take a step back from this, how does it look to the rest of the world when the sitting president is accusing his predecessor of wiretapping his phones without providing any evidence? What message does that send to the rest of the world?
[10:20:03] THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I think it's a very simple message. It's a message that President Putin himself, engendered when he said things about Crimea and Ukraine which were not true. The real question is would you buy a used car from this guy? The really most important question is, if we need our president to sit at the counsels of those who have control over world issues all around the world and they cannot believe what he says. Then we have lost huge amounts of credibility and we have in effect lost our leadership in the world community as a result. And one can only then speculate about the consequences.
And so, years ago, George Shultz, when he was Secretary of State, used to say to us all in the State Department, "Trust is the point of the room." And he was entirely right. If you can't trust the person you're speaking with, either with respect to the facts or indeed with respect to commitments, and the two are closely linked, where are you?
And whatever deals people want to make, they are based on the capacity to carry out those deals. And in international relations, that's not a one-off as it often is in the corporate world. You have a continuing relationship in documents and arrangements and treaties and all the rest that have to be kept not on a one-off basis but over a long period of time. So I think it is very much self-undermining, if I could put it that way.
BERMAN: Leon Panetta, former CIA chief, Secretary of Defense said, "It makes the United States vulnerable." Would you go that far?
PICKERING: I think so. Because if in fact we get into a situation where we're negotiating with somebody and they believe in fact we operate on the basis of made-up facts and made-up truth, they will indulge the same thing. And the results will either be we get a really bad deal, I've heard those words before, or we don't get a deal that we need very badly. And neither one of those is in our interest.
HARLOW: How is it specifically, ambassador, makes the United States vulnerable? Because the words that former CIA chief Leon Panetta said, "It weakens the United States, makes us vulnerable to our enemies, and that is a danger." How specifically do you think it does that?
PICKERING: I think it does. I think the question of credibility I've illustrated on the diplomatic side, by in fact, not being able to carry through with our diplomacy. On the military side, it may be even more significant, if our friends and allies can't believe the words of our Head of State, particularly when it comes to things like carrying out Article V in NATO, an attack against one is an attack against all.
Then, in fact, we become suspect, and we become uncertain, and we become highly unreliable. And in a world where friends and allies are very, very important to us and for our security, our security is undermined.
BERMAN: Ambassador Thomas Pickering, ambassador to everywhere, thank you so much for being with us, appreciate your time, sir.
All right, the White House this morning, despite the fact saying, it would no longer comment on the president's claims -
HARLOW: At all -
BERMAN: -- over this weekend. It's been all over TV this morning, commenting on his claims. Wondering is there new explanation for why he accused the former president of wiretapping Trump Tower with no evidence.
[10:27:52] BERMAN: Good morning, everyone, I'm John Berman.
HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. This morning, a stunning and unsubstantiated claim from the sitting president about his predecessor, a series of bombshell tweets from President Trump asserting he was wiretapped, by whom, the former president, President Obama.
BERMAN: All right. Here to discuss Brian Stelter, host to CNN's "Reliable Sources," CNN political analyst Rebecca Berg, she's a national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics," Ron Brownstein, CNN's senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic". Wesley Lowery, he's a CNN contributor and political reporter with "The Washington Post."
Brian Stelter, based on CNN's reporting from over the weekend, including yours. We have a top radio host and you know, and "Breitbart," I think, to thank for the president's comments over the weekend.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST "RELIABLE SOURCES": Yes, in some ways this is a big success for Mark Levin. He wanted this idea to catch fire. And it has on Thursday night on Levin's radio show. He said Obama and Obama's allies have been trying to attempt a silent coup against Trump and the Trump White House. Then, that spread to "Rush Limbaugh" and "Breitbart" on Friday. And it was at "Breitbart" article. They had spread around the west wing, but apparently, ticked off President Trump, sent them in an angry mood to Florida. And then he woke up Saturday morning with those tweets. --
HARLOW: Indeed. So the White House came out, Rebecca Berg, and said, pretty unequivocally, we nor the president are going to say anything about this until the investigation is over. And then, subsequently this morning, went on a number of morning shows. Just listen to what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said when she was pressed on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, HOST "TODAY": It's his information that President Obama tapped his phone. They solely on something he read in the media, yes or no?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I haven't had the chance to have the conversation directly with the president. And he's at a much higher classification than I am. So he may have access to documents that I don't know about. But I do know that we take this very seriously and we think it should be thoroughly reviewed and investigated and we're asking Congress to do their job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Aside from the fact that if you're going on the news shows to make the case for the president, you probably would talk to him about what's behind it. That aside, is it odd that the White House is going to Congress to basically find evidence to back up the president's claim when he could, as our experts just told us, declassify this so- called evidence himself and put it out there for the public?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER "REAL CLEAR POLITICS": I mean, odd is really understating it, maybe a little bit generous, Poppy.