Return to Transcripts main page


Wray Senate Hearing; Grassley Wants Manafort to Testify; FBI Nominee Testifies before Senate; Trump Furious and Frustrated; Kushner Under Fire. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 12, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: You said that during your time in the deputy attorney general's office, you don't recall reviewing or commenting on any memo written by John Yoo. You also said that as assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division, you, quote, "provided general information and legal support," close quote, regarding the legal standards for interrogation.

I want to ask you about one specific memo, and I'm going to send it down to you, if you haven't had a chance to see it, because I want you to. It was written by Daniel Levin, and it was dated December 2004. This memo replaced the August 2002 Bybee memo. And it says that the Criminal Division reviewed and approved it. It specifically says it. The Criminal Division of the Department of Justice has reviewed this memorandum and concurs in the analysis set forth below.

Here's the key point. In a footnote, the memo indicates that under the new analysis, all of the torture techniques that were approved under the Bybee memo, like waterboarding, would still be legal under the new memo. In other words, nothing changed.

And it says it expressly had the approval of your division. Do you recall reviewing and approving that memo?

WRAY: I do not recall approving -- reviewing and approving that memo, but I -- what I do recall is that we provided -- we drew a line about what the Criminal Division's appropriate role was; that the Criminal Division should be consulted on the general meaning of the statute; what the elements are; how you define what the elements are.

What I did not think was an appropriate role for the Criminal Division, and so we did not review and approve or bless, is review of particular interrogation techniques. And that was because even at the time, I believe, we were already starting to investigate, and in one case which led ultimately to prosecution, cases where techniques went too far. And I did not think it was appropriate for the Criminal Division to be setting interrogation policy or providing legal advice on a going-forward basis.

DURBIN: The memo does not make that distinction. It simply says the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice has reviewed this memo and concurs in the analysis set forth below, which goes into detail in terms of techniques -- interrogation techniques in the footnotes.

It's -- well, I want to give this to you, because I want you to take it, look at it. I'm not trying to stump you here. Take a look at it and see if you can put it in context for me. Tell me if I'm missing something about this.

But it appears that this did go through your division, and I want -- I want to hear, after you've had a chance to look at it, if you wouldn't mind, if you would respond and let me know that.


DURBIN: Is that fair?

Two other things. You worked with U.S. Attorney Chris Christie?

WRAY: When I was assistant attorney general, yes, he was U.S. attorney in New Jersey.

DURBIN: And you were part of the Bristol-Myers Squibb settlement, involved in it?

WRAY: That -- that I don't think so. I was aware of the Bristol- Myers investigation. I think it's possible that the settlement may have occurred after I had left the Criminal Division.

DURBIN: OK. That's what I wanted to know.

The last point I want to ask you about relates to the obstruction of justice, which I think you've -- in a 2004 speech about prosecuting corporate fraud, you urged severe penalties for obstruction of justice. And you said, quote, "Lying to government investigators, obstructing our investigation, needs to be seen as one of the surest paths to severe consequences," end of quote.

Do you believe that obstruction of justice by government officials should be treated similarly? WRAY: I think obstruction of justice, whether it's committed by a senior corporate executive or a guy in the mail room or a government official needs to be treated very seriously.

DURBIN: In the early Enron cases that you were involved in, they are exception in that people went to jail -- executives went to jail. And then we kind of for some reason or another, the Department of Justice lost its stomach for that and stopped sending people to jail.

To me, that is a category of injustice which I hope we will rectify. I don't have great hope, but I hope we will rectify in the future if there's wrongdoing that harms so many people. Would you comment on that particular aspect of prosecution?

WRAY: Be happy to, Senator. I -- I feel very strongly that when one is investigating companies that we need to look at the people -- the individuals in the company who may have engaged in wrongdoing. Because companies act through people.

And so, I think one of the things that we did effectively with the Enron task force and in a number of other corporate fraud prosecutions during that era, was show that we were willing to follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead, all the way to the very top of the house.

And in the Enron case in particular, as you know, as you commented on, we brought cases against the -- essentially the entire "C" suite of the company. Obviously, we have to have the facts and the evidence and the law to support it. We can't succumb to mob rule or anything like that. But I think we need to be sure.

And I think that is the way I view the FBI's mission is to follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead, to whomever they may lead, even if people don't like it.

DURBIN: That's fair. Thanks for your patience today. And I'm going to send this memo down to you so you can have a chance to take it with you.

Thanks, Madam Chair.

WRAY: Thank you.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you.

Well, thank you very much, Mr. Wray. I think you can finally get some lunch here. I wanted to thank you, and to make sure you know that you have a lot of support here. I am going to be supporting you, as a number of my colleagues are.

I think your answers earlier explaining your opposition to torture of any kind was very important, when you -- Senator Feinstein asked you those questions. I also think that the answers that you gave to many of the senators about the independence of the FBI was very compelling and heartfelt. And that meant a lot because I don't have to tell you that you're coming in at a time that is unprecedented; where you've had the director of the FBI fired; the then-acting attorney general a few months ago fired.

And as someone that's been in law enforcement, and believes that law enforcement has to have people that are in charge; that follow the law and care about the law and believe in our democracy more than anything, it couldn't be a more important time for you to be coming into this agency.

And I think that you saw the bipartisan nature of the questions and the respect here has a lot to do with how you handled it, and your experience today. But it also has a lot to do because the senators here know how important this job is right now.

So I want to thank you for your time. And we are going to leave the record open until Friday if senators have further questions.

And I am pleased to say this hearing is adjourned.

Thank you.

WRAY: Thank you, Senator.

[14:07:30] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Watching lawmakers questioning the president's choice to replace James Comey at the FBI, Christopher Wray. We'll talk about all this in just a moment.

But first, we want to get out to Manu Raju. He has some breaking news on Capitol Hill for us at this hour.

Manu, what can you tell us?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. In fact, the Senator Judiciary Committee, who just heard the testimony from Christopher Wray, in fact, now does want to hear testimony from another key person - a person who was involved in these - in this investigation about possible Trump ties with the Russian officials. That's Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, who is now at the center of these investigations on Capitol Hill, as well as the special counsel's investigation as well.

Now, Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me just moments ago that he wants to bring in Paul Manafort next week to testify in a public session. Take a listen.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: One thing, he was present at the meeting that we've all read about in the last week, weekend news. Number two, he's going to fit in well with a hearing we have on the - the registration - what do you call it?


GRASSLEY: Federal Agent Registration Act, OK.

RAJU: So when - when is that, and has he agreed to testify in open session?

GRASSLEY: Well, I don't know whether he - just - we're going to invite him, and if he doesn't invite, then under our new rules Senator Feinstein and I have the power to issue a subpoena.


RAJU: So, threatening a subpoena there. And later he said that that hearing is actually going to be next week. And this is significant, Ana, because we have not heard from Paul Manafort in the middle as this controversy has grown, and we know that the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, two separate committees that are investigating this Russia issue, do. They both want to talk to Paul Manafort. They've exchanged documents with him. He provided documents to the committee, but he doesn't want to talk to them. But he's wanted to talk to them in a classified session. So the question is, if he does come before Congress in a public session next week, that could lead to a lot of questions about his role in - during the campaign, meetings that he had with Russian officials, these questions that he - about whether he was involved in any collusion, of course something that he has strongly denied, as well as the fact that he participated in that meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the lawyer from - who had - apparently had ties to the Kremlin that he participated in that July 2016 meeting and what happened in that meeting all would be subject to questions by senators in this session if Manafort does, in fact, appear and does not invoke his Fifth Amendment rights not to testify.

[14:10:29] Now, the fact that they are willing to subpoena him also very, very significant. It shows a level that they're willing to go to get him to appear. Now, I tried to reach out to Manafort's representatives. I've not heard back yet about what the next steps will be. But one other point, Ana, Chuck Grassley also saying that he may want to hear from Donald Trump Jr. himself before his committee. So they're starting to have conversations about calling him as well. So a lot of developments here as a new investigation, a separate investigation from the ones that are ongoing here in the Senate Judiciary Committee are starting to take shape, possible testimony from Paul Manafort next week, Ana.

CABRERA: Interesting, especially because we know that the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee are really the ones that are taking the lead in terms of the Russia investigations and now Senator Grassley bringing, perhaps, Paul Manafort before the Judiciary Committee. That is significant. Thank you, Manu Raju.

Let's talk more about the testimony we just heard on The Hill from Christopher Wray, again the president's pick to replace fired FBI Director James Comey. I want to bring in chief political analyst Gloria Borger and along her - with her, our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, I'll start with you.

Wray seemed to say everything lawmakers wanted to hear. We heard a lot of affirmation, good answer, as he was response to questions, including whether he believes Donald Trump Jr. should have gone to the FBI about his Russian contact.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. Perhaps a more nuanced answer on that. On the big picture things, he was very clear cut. He said he was not asked, for instance, for a loyalty pledge by the president. That, of course, referencing back to what James Comey said he was. He said that if he was given an illegal order, he would not obey that order, even if it came from the president. He said that he might even resign under those circumstances. All those answers that really senators wanted to hear from both parties, as well as a very definitive statement from him saying that Russia is an adversary, Russia meddled in the election, and on that point somewhat contradicting the president or going much further than his commander in chief has been willing to go in public. But on the point that is in the news, Donald Trump Jr. taking a meeting with someone promising him information sourced from the Russian government damaging to Hillary Clinton, Senator Lindsey Graham had to press him a bit. Have a listen to this exchange.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Do you believe that in light of the Don Jr. e-mail and other allegations that this whole thing about Trump campaign and Russia is a witch hunt? Is that a fair description of what we're all dealing with in America? CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR NOMINEE: Well, senator, I can't speak

to the basis for those comments. I can tell you that my experience with Director Mueller -

GRAHAM: I'm asking you, as the future FBI director, do you consider this endeavor a witch hunt?

WRAY: I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt.

GRAHAM: Can the president fire Director Mueller? Does he have the authority in the law to fire him?

WRAY: I don't - I don't know the law on that.

GRAHAM: Can you get back to us and answer that question?

WRAY: I'd be happy to take a look at that.

GRAHAM: Should Donald Trump Jr. have taken that meeting?

WRAY: Well, senator, I don't - I'm hearing for the first time your description of it, so I'm not really in a position to speak to it. I gather that Special Counsel Mueller would -

GRAHAM: Well, let me ask you this. If I got a call from somebody saying the Russian government wants to help Lindsey Graham get re- elected, they've got dirt on Lindsey Graham's opponent, should I take that meeting?

WRAY: Well, senator, I would think you'd want to consult with some good legal advisers before you did that.

GRAHAM: So the answer is, should I call the FBI?

WRAY: I think it would be wise to let the FBI know -

GRAHAM: You're going to be the director of the FBI, pal. So here's what I want you to tell every politician. If you get a call from somebody suggesting that a foreign government wants to help you by disparaging your opponent, tell us all to call the FBI.

WRAY: To the members of this committee, any threat or effort to interfere with our elections from any nation state or any non-state actor is the kind of thing the FBI would want to know.


SCIUTTO: That's the Republican senator from South Carolina, somewhat frustrated with the answer there. Seems like a pretty clear answer would have been easy, but Chris - Mr. Wray there didn't want to get into what is clearly a political question now. But again, as a Republican senator, not getting the firm answer he wanted from the FBI nominee on saying no to this kind of meeting.

CABRERA: Well, we did hear a very firm answer when asked whether this investigation into the Russia election meddling was a witch hunt, to which he replied, no, I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt. That was the verbatim there, Gloria, but I know you have some new reporting as the president continues to call this a witch hunt. You have some reporting on his thinking right now.

[14:15:17] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I spoke with a source who is familiar with the president's thinking, and he continues to believe that if you were to connect the dots on all of this, you would come up with nothing. That these are kind of a series of coincidences, according to the president, that add up to nothing. And he considers this, you know, a move by those of us in the media to try and draw out a scenario that he does not believe exists. I think he feels very much under fire, very much unhappy, and, obviously, look, this is reflected - this is not a secret. This is reflected in his tweets, publicly, but this is also clearly what he's telling friends privately.

I want to also point to an exchange that the nominee, Mr. Wray, had with, I believe it was Senator Ben Sasse, because I think it was an important question here, because Sasse said to him, "if you are ever directed to shut down or curtail an investigation, will you report that to the committee?" You know, saying, I want to get you on the record that if this were to ever occur, that if any questions were asked of you, such as the ones that James Comey said were asked of him -


BORGER: Would you tell us? And he said, yes, I would bring it to the attention of the appropriate people, including Congress. And that's important.

CABRERA: So, Jim, what is the next step when it comes to the confirmation of Christopher Wray?

SCIUTTO: Well, we heard several senators come out of that room, including Democrats, Dianne Feinstein, saying, I'm going to vote for him. You could tell by the feeling in the room that that committee is going to vote to move it on to the full Senate. And, again, based on his record, based on the bipartisan support already expressed about him before this hearing, and this is - I think this was virtually a flawless hearing for him - that it's pretty likely he's going to go through. I think that's a reasonable expectation.

CABRERA: Jim Sciutto, Gloria Borger, our thanks to both of you.


CABRERA: Up next, a White House in chaos right now. A Republican source says the administration is, quote, "paralyzed" over the e-mail bombshell involving Donald Trump Jr. Our special coverage continues in just a moment.


[14:21:30] CABRERA: Welcome back. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. New reports of a Whit House paralyzed and a president furious and

frustrated as his son's e-mails dominate the headlines. We are told President Donald Trump believes it's all B.A. and has reportedly spent much of the last 24 hours holed up inside the Oval Office glued to the TV. On the surface, at least, the president is still standing by Donald Trump Jr., his son, tweeting, quote, "my son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent, and innocent. This is the greatest witch hunt in political history. Sad."

Now, he was referring to Donald Trump Jr.'s interview on Fox News where he downplayed the meeting between the president's top campaign officials and a Russian lawyer last summer. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: This is pre-Russia mania, you know? This was 13 months ago before, I think, the rest of the world was talking about that, trying to build up this narrative about Russia. So I don't even think my sirens, you know, went up or the antennas went up at this time because of it, because it wasn't the issue that it's been made out to be over the last, you know, nine months, ten months, since it really became a thing.


CABRERA: Joining me now, CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

"The New York Times," Jessica, says people in the president's inner circle have formed a circular firing squad now to find the source of the latest leak related to these e-mails and the meeting with the Russian lawyer between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort. What are you learning about what's now happening behind the scene at the White House?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, one Republican source close to the West Wing really putting it bluntly, saying that the White House is paralyzed, all consumed, and distracted by this. In fact, one source saying that this is yet another week lost when it comes to advancing the president's agenda. Another source saying that really it's time to get some fresh new talent into the White House. But, you know, we've heard that when it comes to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, he's telling the staff here to keep their heads down, to keep working hard, not to be distracted by all this.

But we know that one person, at least, may be somewhat distracted by this, the president himself. We know from sources that he did spend much of yesterday watching the news coverage of this about the release of his son's e-mails as it pertained to this meeting with the Russian lawyer. We know that he also spent the day huddled with his staff and his advisers. The president's mood ranging from furious to frustrated, but also defiant. In fact, just a few moments this morning, after my CNN colleague, Jeff Zeleny, reported that the president had been watching the news, consuming this news coverage about his son's e- mails, the president did take to Twitter just after 9:30 this morning putting out this tweet, Ana, saying, "the White House is functioning perfectly, focused on health care, tax cuts, and reform and many other things. I have very little time for watching TV."

Despite that, however, we've seen the president's Twitter feed. He does often re-tweet those news segments that he sees. The president, though, he has been largely out of public view. He hasn't had anything on his public schedule for several days. We haven't seen him since he got back here to the White House on Saturday. And, of course, Ana, tonight, the president and the first lady, they depart for yet another trip overseas to France.


CABRERA: That's right, for Bastille Day. Thank you very much, Jessica Schneider, from the White House for us.

To analyze all of this, I want to bring in David Chalian, CNN's political director. Also joining us, Andrew Rice. He is the contributing editor of "New York Magazine," who has done extensive reporting on the Kushner family.

So, David, to you first.

I mean it's just amazing that the president continues to say this is all the work of his enemies.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes, we had not heard that in this period that we haven't seen him until today. The last few days, as Donald Trump Jr. was putting out statement after statement, changing his story and then actually putting out the e-mails, it was eerily quiet from Donald Trump, the president, in terms of calling this fake news, as he has done in the past, or just that it's a Democratic effort to discredit his legitimacy as an elected president. That didn't exist because we had it in black and white, because his son put out the fact that he did indeed accept this meeting, knowing that it was the Russian government helping out his father's campaign.

CABRERA: Right, his son put out those statements, he put out the e- mail.

[14:25:30] CHALIAN: Right. Today, he woke up and it seems like time to start trying to punch back again. The problem is, how does it - it just - there's a credibility gap here. How can you tweet out that the White House is functioning perfectly and that you don't watch TV, when you can marry up his Twitter feed to TV segments that he's responding to where we have reporting that he is in his office off (ph) the Oval Office watching TV and where clearly the White House is not functioning perfectly because if it was you wouldn't need your chief of staff going around telling people, keep your head down, do your job. Obviously it's not functioning perfectly.

CABRERA: Right. And on that note, and his own lawyer, apparently, is having some friction now with Jared Kushner. Kushner was at that meeting we know, Andrew Rice, and now the reporting that we have is that his personal attorney, Kasowitz, the president's personal attorney, is upset or frustrated with Jared Kushner because he feels that Kushner's going behind the backs of the attorneys who are part of the Trump team and going straight to the president with discussions about Russia. Does it make sense to you that there's this friction now (ph)?

ANDREW RICE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, I think that, you know, this was - "The New York Times" is reporting this morning. And I think that - I mean, all I know is that it certainly fits with the pattern, which is that no one in this White House has succeeded in getting in between Jared Kushner and the president. And he, for all the many travails that he's had on a variety of fronts, he seems to have really retained his influence. And he's sort of like that last voice in the president's ear. So if you're a criminal defense attorney trying to give him advice as to, you know, how to best protect his own interests in this situation, you want to be that last voice in the president's ear, I'm sure. So, you know, while I don't have any firsthand reporting to substantiate that report, it sounds totally credible to me.

CABRERA: It sounds like -


CABRERA: Go ahead, David.

CHALIAN: I was just going to say, you have to remember the special nature of Jared in this current moment in time. A lot of the characters that we've talked about in this Russia investigation, whether it's Paul Manafort or Mike Flynn or even his son, Donald Trump Jr., are not currently working in the White House. Jared is a senior adviser, day-to-day, working in the White House. And so the fact that he was forwarded this e-mail, the fact that, therefore, he very likely knew what Donald Trump Jr. knew, that this was part of the Russian government effort to help his father-in-law's campaign and hurt Hillary Clinton, therefore meddling in the election. The fact that that's - the fact that we've learned he's had to update his security clearance form several times now to reveal these contacts, this is much more acute for the president because Jared Kushner is still there as a senior adviser, and that's, therefore, puts the president in even more political peril than perhaps some of the outside forces that were involved in the campaign.

CABRERA: And we know there are calls for Jared Kushner's security clearance to be revoked. I don't know where that stands exactly.

Guys, I want to play another sound bite from Donald Trump Jr. last night in his interview as he's defending what happened in the meeting with the Russian lawyer. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: This is the first time we've ever done any of this. This was - you know, I'm still way in the learning curve on all of this. So it wasn't that urgent to me if I'm saying, hey, it can wait until the end of summer.


CABRERA: David, how much inexperience is a role here? CHALIAN: I mean it may be some. We don't know about the content of the

meeting yet. Clearly the excuse that we initially heard is, this is just collecting opposition research and every campaign does it. It doesn't hold water. Because what every campaign does do is collect opposition research. What they don't do is collect it from a foreign adversary. So that - there could be incompetence here. There could be naivete here.

I'm not - I'm not a lawyer. I'm not going to get into whether or not Donald Trump Jr. has done something illegal or whether there might be criminal activity here. But what he did, by accepting that meeting, it just blows up the last six months of excuses we heard that there's absolutely nothing to see here and that this was a complete fabrication. That doesn't hold water anymore because Donald Trump Jr., whether from incompetence or because he thought this was the best way to defeat Hillary Clinton, whichever it is, he had a willingness to accept this help from a foreign adversary.

CABRERA: As he stated in his e-mail.

RICE: Well not - let's not forget that Paul Manafort was at the meeting too, somebody who had extensive political experience. You know, worked on Bob Dole's '96 campaign. Somebody who presumably should have known that this is outside the norm of what happens in political campaigns. So, if nothing else, it just sort of speaks, perhaps, to something deeper about this administration, which is that - which is that people who work for the Trump administration know that - that you cross the family at your peril.

[14:30:14] CABRERA: Loyalty is the --